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German Publishers Cave, Grant Google Free Permission to Use Snippets in Search Results

google-germany-logo-06[1]Google’s 4-month-long fight with German news publishers over license fees for search result snippets came to a close today when the publishers threw in the towel.

VG Media, the rights management firm which 200 German publishers had intended to use to collect the fees, announced on Wednesday that they would be granting Google a free license to use the snippets, saying that they were "forced to this extraordinary step, given the overwhelming market power of Google".

In short, this latest effort to force Google to pay for the privilege of sending web traffic to other websites failed as completely as past attempts. This both is and isn’t a surprise in that for once the publishers had the law on their side, but given Google’s past refusal to pay similar fees (they’d rather remove links from search results) I am not surprised that Google prevailed again.

This fight started in June of this year when VG Media started legal proceedings against Google, alleging that Google was violating German law. They asked to be awarded 11% of Google’s revenues based on, well, I’m not quite what they were smoking.


But I do know that VG Media had based its claim on a law passed in Germany in August 2013, which had been written to cover pretty much this situation. It explicitly granted publishers the right to license their content or parts thereof, except in the case of single words or very small text snippets.

Unfortunately for the publishers, German regulators didn’t see things the same way. In August the Bundeskartellamt rejected the antitrust complaint filed by VG Media, and while at first it looked like VG Media would win on the license front earlier this month Google announced that they would stop using excerpts from the websites belonging to the publishers behind VG Media.

To be clear, Google would still link to the sites, but it would not use snippets. This puts the publishers at a disadvantage compared to other news sites in the search results.

While VG Media might have a legal right to demand the license fees, they didn’t have any way to force Google to use the snippets (that is what the antitrust complaint was supposed to accomplish, I kid you not). And without that, the publishers have two choices: either give up the free traffic Google sends them or let Google use the snippets for free.

VG Media chose the latter option, just like I predicted. This is not the first time that a European publisher has tried to get Google to pay for the use of snippets, for the most part Google came out ahead each time.

Even when Google initially lost, as in the case of the copyright infringement suit filed against  Google in Belgium, the search engine giant came out ahead. In that case, after Google complied with the ruling and delisted the websites which had sued Google, it was then accused of punishing the sites by no longer sending them web traffic.

Eventually the Belgian sites had to agree to let Google list them for free – which is exactly what VG Media did today.

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William D. O’Neil October 22, 2014 um 9:34 pm

About all you can say for this attempt (and that in Belgium) is that they created some needed economic activity, even if it was to the benefit of some not-too honest lawyers. Schwer dumm!

bfids October 23, 2014 um 9:27 am

Yet the legislation, which those publishers had pushed forward before their attempts to ask money for their snippets, still exists and now hurts smaller search engines who cannot list these snippets for free, for that exception has only been granted for Google so far. I’m just waiting for some smaller search engine to file a complaint against those publishers for forming a cartel that now grants Google an unfair advantage by only offering that particular giant web search provider to use their snippets for free.

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