Proposed Licensing For Newspaper Snippets Could Threaten Users Of Blogs, Facebook And Twitter In Germany
from the triumph-of-the-dinosaurs dept
A few months ago we wrote about a really bad idea that was being floated in Germany: making companies like Google pay for the use of news snippets in services such as Google News. Unfortunately, that idea has now been turned into a concrete proposal for a new law; remarkably, it is even worse than the original plans.
As Udo Vetter points out in a post entitled “Digitally Castrated” (German original), the emphasis of the proposed modification to German copyright law (available as pdf) has shifted: now the primary targets of the law are not only companies like Google, but also ordinary people who blog or post short excerpts of news stories on Facebook or even Twitter, who may be required to obtain a special new license to do so.
Vetter suggests this is because the German publishers have realised that Google would probably rather close down its Google News site in Germany than pay for each snippet, and so they have decided to go after an Internet group who make up in numbers what they lack in revenue: German users of blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
They are likely to be affected because two aspects of the proposed law are vague. It would apparently apply to anyone who makes money from their online writing, and that seems to include things like a few Google Ads or a micropayment system like Flattr. The other uncertainty is what exactly is allowed in the way of unlicensed excerpts from articles. The proposal explicitly mentions that quotations that are currently legal will remain legal. But as Vetter points out, a recent German court decision established that even very short excerpts could be infringing, which effectively guts that apparent safeguard.
This creates a gray area of what will be lawful for ordinary Internet users. And that, in its turn, will create an opportunity for publishers to send out huge numbers of threatening letters to bloggers and others that have quoted from newspapers and magazines. Since few of the latter will have the resources to defend themselves in court, most will simply give in and pay for one of the new licenses the legislation would create.
This will doubtless have a chilling effect on German blogging, and by extension on the use of quotations from newspapers in German Facebook posts and on Twitter too, since users will hardly be keen to fight major battles against well-funded publishers to establish the exact contours of the new law.
The end-result could be a disaster for German blogging, microblogging and social networks. Freedom of speech would inevitably suffer, as people hesitate to challenge articles published in newspapers and magazines for fear of running afoul of the new rules. Old media will be back in the driver’s seat — exactly as the publishers doubtless planned when they lobbied for this law.
One hope is that the extreme nature of this proposal will shock enough people into protesting against it — the massive street demonstrations against ACTA showed what the German Internet community is capable of. The other is that, if the worst comes to the worst, and it is passed in its current form, the new copyright law would surely alienate so many users of popular platforms like blogs and social networks that the German Pirate party would find itself propelled to even greater political power.