The German news site Heise reported today that VZ Media (the newspaper coalition which filed the copyright complaint next week) and 12 other German media companies have collectively filed an antitrust complaint against Google.
If I understand this correctly, the publishers are arguing that Google's dominance of the search engine market in Germany gives it undue power over the publishers. As a result, when Google asked last year for the publishers to agree to let Google use the snippets and links for free, the publishers feel they were blackmailed or extorted into giving Google what it wanted.
They say that is an antitrust violation.
If you've been following this story for long enough then you know that last year Germany passed a new law which ostensibly gave German publishers complete control over how their content is used. In reality that was designed to force Google and other search engines to pay for the privilege of using links and snippets. German publishers had been trying to get money out of Google since 2010, and after failing in the courts and with regulators they got new regulations passed which gave them the control they wanted.
That law went into effect in August 2013. In June 2013 Google anticipated the law by changing the ToS for Google News (in Germany). Now any site that wanted to be listed had to explicitly agree to let Google use the snippets and links for free otherwise Google would delist the site (and cost the site all of the free advertising Google provides).
It is that threat which is now the subject of an antitrust complaint. "For us, this threat is clearly a market abuse," said Thomas Düffert, chairman of the Madsack newspaper conglomerate. (Why the publishers didn't make this argument at the time Google extracted that permission from them, I don't know. Perhaps their lawyers hadn't thought it up yet.)
The complaint has been filed with Bundeskartellamt, the German Federal Cartel Office today, so it will likely be weeks or months before we get a response.
Over the past few years Google Google has been the subject of numerous antitrust investigations in Germany. In fact, one early attempt to get Google to pay for the use of snippets was an antitrust complaint filed in January 2010. That obviously failed, as have others.
But not all such antitrust complaints have failed. Google is currently trying to settle an antitrust action brought by the EU over Google's dominance of the search engine market. At this point it is still not clear how it will turn out, but regulators do seem to have ruled out breaking up Google.
"Europe can't dismantle Chinese, American, Indian or South American companies,"German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, 60, said on Tuesday when asked about Mountain View, California-based Google, the world's biggest search provider. "What kind of a legal system is that? That's not going to work."
image by Gastev