German Publishers Rattle Sabers, Threaten Google With Lawsuit Over Snippets

7272337124_a361e47866_hGerman publishers and Google have failed to resolve a row over whether or not the Web search leader should pay the publishers to display their articles online, raising the prospect of a lengthy court battle.

The German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) said on Tuesday arbitration proceedings between the publishers and Google had failed as they both objected to a settlement proposal put forward by the body’s arbitration board. At issue is the demand of publishers including Axel Springer, Germany’s biggest newspaper publisher, that Google and other search engines pay to display their content. The publishers’ case centers on an ancillary copyright law, or “Leistungsschutzrecht”, in force since August 2013.

“We will definitely go to court,” said a manager at one publisher.

Over the past decade, the media industry has often accused Google of making money at its expense by making its content freely available via Google News, YouTube and other services to drive audiences to view ads on Google sites instead.

Google counters that the publishers already profit from advertising revenue generated through its sites. “Altogether, we pass on 500 million clicks a month to German publishers’ pages alone,” Google’s central Europe chief, Philipp Justus, said on Monday in Berlin.

The failure of the arbitration process comes despite a six-month charm offensive by Google to win over newspaper publishers with collaboration on technology, digital newsroom training and funding for small-scale media innovation projects.

The failure follows a failed antitrust complaint filed last year, as well as other legal maneuvers on the part of German publishers.

Last November, Axel Springer scrapped a move to block Google from running snippets of articles from its newspapers, saying the experiment had caused traffic to its sites to plunge. Springer said then a two-week-old experiment to restrict access by Google to some of its publications had caused web traffic to plunge for these sites, leading it to row back and let Google once again showcase Springer news stories in its search results.

To put it simply, that experiment proved that Google was giving Axel Springer’s websites free advertisement by sending traffic to the sites, which is exactly what Google was saying all along.

And yet the German publishers still want Google to pay.

Good luck with that. As Google has repeatedly demonstrated, they would rather turn off a service or delist websites from its search engine rather than pay for the use of snippets and links.

The best the publishers can hope for is a pyrrhic victory, one where no one wins.

(Reporting by Klaus Lauer and Paul Carrel for Reuters, editing by Nate Hoffelder)

image by chriscorneschi


  1. Mike28 October, 2015

    I assume the Germans don’t know what happened in Spain despite speaking the same European language LOL.
    The publishers are brain dead. What they want is to make their own aggregation and force google to index it. This way they can compete with google.
    Otherwise they will end up like a bull at the end of a bull fight – DEAD!

  2. Hayden28 October, 2015

    @Mike, the funny thing is, if the publishers created their own aggregation service, they would probably manipulate it so that their own articles ranked highly, which would be truly anti-competitive

  3. Mike28 October, 2015

    Maybe, but that’s OK as google would still be a competitor. But google restricting aggregation is anti-competitive. It is better to offer more choices than less. Any service should have the freedom to offer what it wants.

  4. Chris Meadows28 October, 2015

    It will be amusing to watch this play out. Google really should go ahead and just stop indexing German papers altogether for a while and see how they like it. “If you wanted us to stop, all you had to do was ask.”

    Which I imagine they will do when it gets to that point in the lawsuit, but going ahead and doing it now could save all that lawyer money…

  5. Mike28 October, 2015

    Like I said this has been tried in Spain and it failed.

    1. Nate Hoffelder28 October, 2015

      Also Belgium, and Germany.

      This won’t be the first fight that publishers will lose against Google.

  6. DonW28 October, 2015

    That is like asking the Wall Street Journal pay for the privilege of showing an add for them.

    1. Nate Hoffelder28 October, 2015

      @ DonW Pretty much.

  7. Andrew28 October, 2015

    Any idea why this keeps coming up? They prove they are better off with Google links, then sue anyway? It sounds like a corporate law office with a need to justify their existence looking for work – except this is spans multiple publishers.

    1. Nate Hoffelder28 October, 2015

      The only thing I can think of is that they’re guessing that Google won’t play the same game of brinksmanship. In other words, the German publishers aren’t worried about Google retaliating by removing them from its search engine. This frees the publishers to do whatever they want.

      BTW, they have good reason not to worry. If Google did preemptively remove these publishers from its search engine, it would be a blatant antitrust violation. Google knows this, so it won’t do it.


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