Germany Wants To Define A Snippet As Seven Words Or Less; Doing So Is Likely To Breach Berne Convention

from the how-copyright-maximalism-defeats-itself dept

Techdirt has been following with a certain amusement the humiliating failure of German publishers to bring in a “snippet tax” that would force Google and other search engines to pay for displaying even short quotations from their publications. The most recent defeat for the copyright industry was the German competition authority announcing that it would not “punish” Google for refusing to take out a license for snippets because, well, Google had a perfect right not to do so. The Disruptive Competition (DisCo) Project Web site has an update on the continuing saga, and it’s as crazy as the rest of the story:

The Copyright Arbitration Board of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) recently recommended that snippets, i.e. small text excerpts used by search engines and online aggregators below hyperlinks, can comprise exactly seven words. This suggestion is part of the DPMA’s recommendation to privately settle a dispute between online services and press publishers over Germany’s ancillary copyright, also termed the ‘snippet levy’. Should a court confirm this recommendation, snippets which go beyond this limit of seven words would in theory have to be licensed from news publishers.

As the DisCo post goes on to explain, that weirdly precise limit is a result of a last-minute change to the German snippet law, which carved out “individual words and smallest text excerpts” from its scope. Of course, that begs invites the question: how big could that “smallest text excerpt” be? For reasons that are not clear, the Copyright Arbitration Board suggested that the answer was “seven words long”. The DisCo post points out there would be an interesting and unexpected consequence of adopting that seven-word limit on snippets officially: it would put Germany in conflict with its obligations under the Berne Convention on copyright. In the 1967 revision to the Convention, a mandatory right to “short quotations” was changed to one allowing “quotations”. Here’s why that matters:

imagine a situation in which snippets, a modern form of quotations, are reduced to seven words. From a practical point of view, it is safe to say that they are useless for Internet users who would find it difficult to find the information they are actually looking for. From a legal point of view, most would probably agree that a seven word quotation is rather ‘short’ — and exactly this conflicts with international copyright law which guarantees meaningful (and useful) quotations going beyond ‘short’ quotations.

In a delicious irony, then, the German publishers’ insane pursuit of the completely unworkable “ancillary” copyright protection for snippets could result in the country breaching fundamental obligations under the world’s main copyright convention.

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Comments on “Germany Wants To Define A Snippet As Seven Words Or Less; Doing So Is Likely To Breach Berne Convention”

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34 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

... and then what?

I’m not seeing what exactly they plan to do even if they get their way here.

Assume for a moment that they use the ever popular justification of ‘Because copyright’ to bypass the Berne Convention, and manage to get ‘free’ snippets to be legally defined as seven words or less, with anything longer requiring licensing. What happens then? Google either doesn’t show snippets at all, or only shows snippets seven words or less to avoid being forced to pay. In neither case are the publishers going to get money from Google.

At this point I think they’ve gone beyond greed to straight up desperation, so focused on all that money they want that they’re just throwing out anything at all they can come up with to try and get it.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: ... and then what?

Just like before when Google eliminated snipets altogether they cried foul when their web traffic fell drastically. Seven words, really? Go ahead Google. Give them what they want. Just because Google makes money sending people to your web site so YOU can get ad revenue you think Google owes you? The old expression “cutting off your nose to spite your face” comes to mind.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

begging the question...

Glyn you’re really knowledgeable and well read so I’m not sure how this happened (maybe throw an editor under the bus?)

“this begs the question” does not mean “this brings up the question.” It means “This takes as a given this other thing that really should be questioned!”

Best regards,

Ehud Gavron
Tucson AZ
Follow me on … er… um… the racetrack.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Compound words

Then if the seven word snippet chosen is in German but someone comes along and does a search in English and the snippet is then translated to something more than seven words, some uptight, pecuniary, anal-retentive protector of the German economy will then charge Google the equivalent of $0.03 or something equally ridiculous because the translation exceeded someone’s insensible sensibilities?

Ninja (profile) says:

Anomaly! Even if copyrights destroy basic Human Rights it’s all anomalies! Or so it seems to be the new mindset of the copyright morons. Disgusting.

This is ironic yes but at the same time worrying. Will they go against such mechanism in their never ending greed? If they do, what prevents them from going as insane as supporting capital punishment for copyright infringement? Hyperbole? After the monstrosity that copyright has become do we really believe the MAFIAA and friends wouldn’t go that far?

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: the Berne Convention

Because dying is bad in the Stone age or the 35th Century. However, a law that is affected by and relates to technology does need to be updated over time or it will become irrelevant and/or stifling.

Besides, given some of the stupid legal representations I’ve seen, ‘Thou shalt not kill” could theoretically be applied to any ‘act’ of ‘killing’, i.e. shooting ‘someone’ in Call of Duty…

Or you could imagine PETA deciding to go for the pro-vegan interpretation…

David says:

Look, seven words is a lot

There is the famous Hemingway short story that has six words. This throwaway account on a sort-of social media site has two of the coveted gold badges and a reputation of more than 700 points while only ever having written six words.

But then it does feel exaggerated to assign copyright to either six-word creation: either have obviously been just the work of a moment. Arguably an inspired moment, but the idea of copyright is to reward actual work rather than the flick of a wrist. Because who needs a legal and monetary incentive for a single flick of the wrist? At least as long as the flick of the wrist is ad-hoc rather than the result of hard training for just that particular flick of the wrist?

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