German Competition Authority Decides To Take No Action Over Google's Removal Of Snippets From Google News

from the misusing-copyright dept

Almost exactly a year ago, Techdirt wrote about Google’s decision to drop the use of news snippets from certain German publishers, who were members of the collection society VG Media, in a long-running dispute over “ancillary copyright”, also known as the Google tax. VG Media lodged a claim against Google with Germany’s competition authority, the Bundeskartellamt, in the hope the authorities would force Google to put the snippets back by licensing them. An interesting post on the Disruptive Competition (DisCo) Project Web site notes the Bundeskartellamt has now issued its ruling, and said that it will not open formal proceedings against Google over this matter:

The answer of the antitrust watchdog is simple: if an online service does not want to acquire a license for the display of snippets and hence only displays search results in a more limited, shorter version, it can do so. There is nothing in antitrust law that would prevent companies from doing so, even if they are found to be dominant on a given market.

The Bundeskartellamt’s reasoning is quite simple:

Google announced that in future it would show search results relating to the websites of press publishers that were represented by VG Media in the legal dispute only in a reduced form if the publishers did not agree to a free-of-charge use of their work. Google justified this by claiming that otherwise it ran the risk of being sued for breaching the ancillary copyright.

The Bundeskartellamt considers this to be an objective justification for Google’s conduct. Even a dominant company cannot be compelled under competition law to take on a considerable risk of damages where the legal situation is unclear.

The rest of the DisCo post explores research that shows the harmful effects Spain’s Google tax has had on publishers in that country — something that Mike wrote about back in July. The author of the DisCo analysis, Jakob Kucharczyk, has a good encapsulation of the problem common to all these attempts to introduce ancillary copyright:

The underlying flaw in this strategy is that these legislative proposals misuse copyright for industrial policy purposes. It remains unclear which problem or market failure these laws actually try to solve.

The question is: How long will it take European governments to grasp this point? And how much of their publishing industries will have disappeared when they finally do?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Companies: google, vg media

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Comments on “German Competition Authority Decides To Take No Action Over Google's Removal Of Snippets From Google News”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Now for the fun

I give it a week, maybe two, before the ones who filed the lawsuit go crawling to Google, begging to have the snippets returned now that the attempt of legally forcing them to do so failed.

They got what they claimed to want, but not what they actually wanted, and I would hope that they realize their cash-grab is a bust at this point, and drop the matter.

David says:

Re: Re: Now for the fun

No, the Bundeskartellamt did not try anything here. The publishers previously managed to get a law passed where Google News’ aggregation of article starters would have required licensing payments. When that law passed, Google News stopped showing article starters, leading to a predictable decline in page views.

Then the publishers sued Google in order to force them to show the article starters again and pay for them.

Basically Google should not be allowed to use its market dominating decision for locking out particular publishers. The problem was that Google just “locked out” publishers who would have demanded payments.

So publishers wanted both for Google News to provide a service to them and wanted Google to pay for providing that service to them.

The Bundeskartellamt merely decided that having to pay for stuff is a perfectly valid reason not to take it, monopoly or not.

That’s why Spain decided to make the payment compulsory in order to avoid Google just “pressuring” people by only providing them with services if they did not have to pay them for receiving the services. So in Spain, nobody gets the services any more.

In short, this is the corporate/legal variant of “this is why we cannot have nice things”.

The role of the Bundeskartellamt was more or less confined to shrugging its shoulders here.

PaulT (profile) says:

“It remains unclear which problem or market failure these laws actually try to solve.”

Oh, that’s easy – the problem is that Google have a lot of money and these publishers don’t. The market failure is the failure of them to take advantage of the additional traffic they’re sent for nothing. The law would try to “solve” these by sending the publishers free money, freeing them of the need to adapt.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Planning for the long-term

Greed is certainly a big part of it, but the source article actually brings up a possible second motivation.

‘The recent study produced by NERA Economic Consulting at the request of the Spanish Association of Publishers and Periodical Publications has shed some light on this issue.

According to NERA, smaller, less popular online publications have suffered the most from the introduction of the law which caused a significant online traffic decline. While the average traffic decrease to online publications amounts to more than 6%, the traffic decrease for small publications amounts to more than double the average, 14% exactly. NERA predicts that in the long-term this impact will even be greater, threatening the viability of some small online newspapers. This can hardly be a surprise. Smaller online publications which do not enjoy brand popularity derive significantly greater benefit from news aggregation services than large ones. Since the ancillary copyright literally shut down tools for people to find alternative sources of information, competition in the market for news publishing becomes distorted in favour of bigger publications, especially in favour of those whose brand is visible to people everyday on the newspaper stand around the corner.

In a word: Competition.

A snippet tax is a cash-grab pure and simple, but the version introduced in Spain, where it was mandatory hurt smaller sites much more than larger sites, despite the fact that the smaller sites would have loved to give search engines free license to use their stuff I’m sure, giving them a leg up over larger sites that would be forced to either do the same, or suffer losses to visitor numbers. Making it mandatory however removed that potential advantage, allowing larger sides to tough it out, while the smaller sites with less resources struggle much more.

Everyone got screwed over, but the smaller outlets got it twice as bad. If I were one of those running the larger news sites, I imagine it might be worth taking the hit to visitors in the short term if doing so gutted the visitors of smaller sites, such that several of them folded. Once that happens, where do you imagine people will go to at that point?

Zonker says:

Re: Re: Planning for the long-term

To drive the point on eliminating competition further, from the source article:

Axel Springer, Germany’s biggest news publisher and the major driving force behind the Leistungsschutzrecht, even gave Google (and Google only) a free licence to display snippets of their content.


According to the most recent Reuters Institute Digital News Report, 46% of Spaniards find news directly via the brand of the publication — one of the highest rates among all the countries analysed in the report.

(I’m just glad I don’t have to pay a license fee for those snippets.)

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Planning for the long-term

The obvious solution to a law mandating payments like the one Spain has, that are causing major problems for smaller companies, is for those companies to offer to pay Google for their service, in exactly the amount the law mandates Google pay the small company.

Google News gets snippets without paying for them, the small media companies get increased page views, everyone wins.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Its Just Passive-Aggressive Piracy


Infringement is not theft. Intellectual property itself is a form of theft because it restricts what others can do with their property. Intellectual property should not exist to prevent your perverted definition of theft. It should only exist to serve a public interest. No one is entitled to intellectual property privileges because those government granted privileges infringe on the rights of others. Intellectual property is a gift from government, not something that anyone is entitled to having or endowed with. IP laws should only exist to serve the public interest. If you believe they should exist for any other purpose I say we abolish them. Preventing your perverted definition of theft is exactly why IP laws should not exist.

“Google has to obey the SAME LAWS AS EVERYBODY ELSE.”

What laws are they not obeying that everyone else is obeying?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“marginal quality publishers”

You’re much worse than a marginal quality commenter.

and laws shouldn’t be designed to hurt the little guy or to hurt your definition of a marginal quality publisher. The reader should be left to decide the quality. Your statement is more anti-free speech, pro-dictator, you want to use the government to purge those that you deem to be unworthy of speech. That should not be the purpose of laws. The point of free speech is that it should be the reader to decide the quality. It is exactly those free speech laws that let you come here and comment your less than marginal quality nonsense. and I, the reader, am perfectly able to determine that your comment is nonsense. See how that works? No one needed to stop you from commenting for us to make that determination. We didn’t need a law in place. It’s obvious to all of us.

and I think your comment reveals another agenda behind these laws. Aside from being a tacit admission that they are intent on hurting the little guy in favor of the big guy (which is who the shills really defend. They don’t care about the quality of the content or the authors, they only care about the big media conglomerates and those that buy politicians in exchange for anti-competitive laws) this is an admission that the intent is to control the media, to control what people read, so that we can’t criticize the nonsense that the shills around here promote.

Anonymous Coward says:

German publishers are upset because Google News removed news snippets? Let’s see, Google News doesn’t want to license news snippets, so they remove news snippets. German publishers get mad because Google News removes snippets because they don’t won’t to license, German publishers get mad.


If you want the free traffic, then stop demanding licenses. Didn’t they learn that lesson after Google News shut down Google News Spain?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They just can’t help themselves. They see that Google has money, and they really, really want some of it.

Doesn’t matter that they’re shooting their own feet, and that this same thing has played out several times before and has never worked, they’re just so very sure that this time it will work, this time they’ll be able to force Google to pay to give them for the free advertising/traffic it sends them.

Anonymous Coward says:

German publishers need to realize that you can;t force someone to purchase a license if they don’t want to buy it. If Google News doesn’t want to license news snippets, then there is no possible way that publishers can force Google News to purchase a license.

That’s what makes our society so great, that you’re not mandated to purchase something. Oh, wait, that’s exactly what the U.S. Government did with health care.

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