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Axel Springer Bows to Google in Fight Over Snippet Licensing

google-germany-logo-06[1]Germany’s biggest news publisher has just acceded to the fact that it needs Google more than Google needs it. Reuters reports that Axel Springer recently ended a two-week-long test where Springer blocked Google from using snippets of  articles from its websites noting that the test had caused traffic to its sites to plunge.

For the past two weeks Springer has blocked Google from using snippets from 4 of its most popular news sites:,, and There are no publicly available details on the traffic lost during the test, but Springer did note that "traffic flowing from clicks on Google search results had fallen by 40 percent and traffic delivered via Google News had plummeted by 80 percent in the past two weeks".

Axel Springer was the last holdout of a cartel of German publishers which had been trying for years to force Google to pay for the traffic it sends them, a fight which the publishers have lost every round.

After years of yelling and threats, the publishers got a law passed in 2013 which required search engines like Google to pay for the use of snippets in search results. Google responded by requiring publishers to grant free use of the snippets under the promise of being removed from Google News (as we can see from today’s news, that is not an idle threat).

Earlier this year the publishers counter-attacked. 200 German publishers signed up with VG Media and started legal proceedings against Google, alleging that Google was violating that 2013 law. They asked to be awarded 11% of Google’s revenues based on their abilities to heft a very wide shovel.

In addition to demanding that Google pay for the use of the snippets, VG Media filed an antitrust complaint against Google. That came to naught  in August after the Bundeskartellamt declined to investigate Google’s dominance of the search engine market, noting that the  publishers had not offered sufficient basis to justify an investigation. (The fact that the Bundeskartellamt also had to investigate VG Media as a possibly illegal cartel may have influenced its decision.)

VG Media’s efforts came to an end a couple weeks ago when it announced that its members would be granting Google the use of snippets for free, and now Axel Springer is joining them. Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner said on Wednesday that his company would have "shot ourselves out of the market" had it continued to block Google.

While it is good  to read that the publishers have conceded the fight, this story is not over with yet. Spain has recently passed a law which grants publishers the inalienable right to license their content (as in it’s illegal for them to give the snippets away for free), and the EU’s new digital commissioner has stated his intentions to  push for an EU-wide Google tax.



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fjtorres November 5, 2014 um 3:06 pm

Remember, the Spanish law not only grants the right to charge for snippets it demands payment. No opt-out allowed.

Nate Hoffelder November 5, 2014 um 3:07 pm

Yep, hence the "inalienable right". Let me go make that more clear.

Hrafn November 5, 2014 um 11:28 pm

Does the Spanish law specify a minimum charge though? If not, then the charge can still be set so low as to be effectively zero, and Google can still hold out for such a charge.

Rashkae November 6, 2014 um 1:02 am

Methkinks google will just have to charge the Spanish publishers a hefty co-op fee for being listed… If the publishers are very lucly, Google won’t demand much more than it’s going to cost them to license the snippets.

Mir November 6, 2014 um 11:25 am

I’m pretty sure Google has an "inalienable right" to not show snippets of Spanish publishers. Let’s see how they fare.

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