Top German Publisher Says: 'You Wouldn't Steal A Pound Of Butter… So We Need A Snippet Tax'

from the articles-11-and-13-must-go dept

Last week, Mike provided a virtuoso excoriation of the European publishers’ shameless demand to be given even more copyright control over tiny snippets of news stories as part of the awful EU copyright directive. As that post pointed out, the publishers’ “mythbuster” did nothing of the sort, but it did indicate a growing panic among the industry as more critical attention is brought to bear on the ridiculous “snippet tax” — Article 11 of the proposed new EU copyright law — which has already failed twice elsewhere. The German site Über Medien — “About Media” — offers another glimpse of publishers trying desperately to justify the unjustifiable (original in German). Actually, it’s one publisher in particular: Mathias Döpfner. He’s the CEO of the German company Axel Springer, one of the world’s largest publishers, although even his company is unlikely to benefit much from the snippet tax. Speaking on Austrian television, Döpfner made a rather remarkable claim:

It’s about the question of whether the intellectual good that is produced is a protected good or not. At the moment it is a good that is not protected in the digital world. Anyone can take an article, a video, a journalistic element that a publisher has prepared, copy it, put it in another context and even market it successfully.

Yes, the boss of one of the biggest and most successful publishers in the world is claiming that digital material is not protected by copyright, and that anyone can take and use it, which is why new laws are needed. Since he was talking about the EU’s Article 11, he also seems to be conflating using snippets with taking an entire article. To underline his point, Döpfner offered a homely comparison:

If I can go to the grocery store and just grab a pound of butter or a carton of milk without paying for it, why should anyone come and pay for it, and why would anyone else offer butter or milk?

But that’s not what Google is doing when it uses snippets. It’s more like it is taking a picture of the pound of butter, and then showing people the photo along with the address of the grocery store when they search for “butter” using Google’s search engine. Google is not stealing anything, just sending business to the store. It’s the same with displaying snippets that link to the original article. The Über Medien post rightly goes on to note that publishers don’t really have a problem with Google showing snippets and sending them traffic. But their sense of entitlement is so great they want to force the US company to pay for the privilege of sending them traffic. Or, to put it in terms of D?pfner’s forced analogy:

Publishers do not want Google to stop stealing butter and milk in their supermarkets. The publishers want to oblige Google to steal bread and milk from them and pay for it.

The fact that the head of German’s biggest publisher resorts to the old “you wouldn’t steal a car/pound of butter/carton of milk” rhetoric shows just how vanishingly thin the argument in favor of a snippet tax really is. It’s time for the EU politicians to recognize this, and remove it from the proposed copyright directive, along with Article 13’s even-more pernicious upload filter. EU citizens can use the new SaveYourInternet site to contact their representatives. Ahead of the important EU vote on the proposed law early next week, now would be a really good time to do that.

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Companies: axel springer, google

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Comments on “Top German Publisher Says: 'You Wouldn't Steal A Pound Of Butter… So We Need A Snippet Tax'”

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Ninja (profile) says:

I liked “You wouldn’t download a car” but “You wouldn’t download a pound of butter” sounds even better.

And my answer is: if the owner isn’t deprived from the original pound of butter? Hell yes. Would I throw him money to make better butter so I can take more copies? Hell yes. Would I go to the store physically to appreciate the original butter and give the owner money in the process? Hell yes. And producing copies of food sounds a lot better than cars because we’d solve the hunger problem 😀

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Those trailers were always one of the most hilarious things about them trying to fight piracy, they backfired at every point. They completely missed every point they were going for, made statements that most people would disagree with (you wouldn’t download a car? Well, yes I might if the original owner still had his copy). Plus, they even damaged their own potential digital sales by conflating “download” with “infringing”. They never said anything about illegally downloading, they just told people not to download, so I wonder how many lost iTunes sales they lost from the easily confused.

Then, to add insult to injury, they made them unskippable. Meaning that to this day people have to sit through a 30 second lecture on not pirating the copy they legitimately bought, every single time they watch it, while the pirates may never have seen the laughable propaganda once. Thereby, making a pirated copy more valuable for people who only want to watch the movie.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This did this crap in Germany. Google stopped. Traffic to their news sites greatly dropped. In the end, they Gave Google a free pass. So in effect, they made the so-called problem worse. Because now Google has a free pass and no one else does.

You sure as hell can’t force a company to put snippets up and then expect them to also PAY to do it. Google like before will just stop doing it.

The simple fact is, any one of these news sites can easily place a Robot.txt on their website and Google will not grab a single thing from them. It’s so simple, yet they don’t want to stop Google. They just want Google to give them money as Google sends people their way. I find this funny.

David says:

Re: Re:

Döpfner is one of the largest publishers. As such, they probably already have a fair amount of traffic without Google. He know through history that Google will drop all EU distribution of snippets if they pass a tax.

He knows that he will take a hit, but as one of the largest, can probably take the hit. His smaller competition, can’t take the hit and is more likely to fail.

This is simply a way for him to solidify his business, but using Google’s actions to take away traffic (and subsequent Ad revenue) from his competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Pound?

Yeah that is a weird part of my country as well… Mass and weight is measured in grams, kilo and so on, yet I do believe that pound used to be a thing, so it is still around. I think it is mostly for food and drink with “pound of butter”, “a pound of coffee”, “a pound of sugar”.

David says:

Re: Pound?

It’s a metric pound, exactly 500g. Butter actually comes in half-pound sticks, 250g.

At any rate, the German fixation on butter is irritating. Probably comes from the Goebbels speech at the sports palace “Wollt ihr Butter oder Kanonen?” and the Germans figured out by now than cannons were the worse choice.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Dear government

The government is not trying to obstruct justice, they merely want to bring an end to it. They’re not stealing your liberty, because your liberty isn’t copyrighted. When liberty was first invented, they should have had the foresight to patent and copyright it, along with a suitable trademark and custom printed T-shirts.

Give me Liberty or give me something of lesser or equal value! Or a coupon for it! As long as it is entertaining and amusing. Oh, look! A shiny! Liberty Version 3.0! And it’s on sale!

Griffdog (profile) says:

a butter analogy

I think I’ll create a listing of businesses that deal with butter; their phone numbers and addresses. Then I’ll share it with everyone for free. If a butter producer or vendor wants to get noticed, he can pay me to make his listing bold, or he can pay more to insert an advertisement. To remind everyone that this listing is about butter, I’ll print it on yellow paper and call it the Yellow Pages.
Next year I’ll make even more money by filing copyright violations on anyone who sends mail to these businesses.

ItsCultural says:


“It’s more like it is taking a picture of the pound of butter, and then showing people the photo along with the address of the grocery store when they search for “butter” using Google’s search engine. “

It’s more like taking a picture using that picture and linking to dozens of paid sites that want to sell their butter and burying the originating producer of the butter under grease.

Think of it another way, applied to U.S. politics.

You’re a voter, you want information on a local political candidate, when you go to look for info on the web you find dozens of national political ads about your local candidates. Your local coverage has is buried under the hundreds of links to national coverage. Each link is a potential ad click and revenue for Google. Google makes money, the political candidate gets distorted coverage and the voter casts a vote without full details of that candidate from local sources.

I see Google allowing others to benefit and sell on a topic or product that didn’t create the product or story to begin with.

It’s cultural, they want their local businesses to benefit from their work.
I get why they are doing this.
Google redirects (obfuscates! through their shear number of links) away from the source material or product and makes money irregardless of the consumer looking for local information.

Google could do better, could always highlight the originating story or product and keep it in view, but that would lesson the number of ‘promoted’ links and thus not generate ad revenue. I see Google as the problem and everyone else in the story trying to fight a behemoth that does NOT care about anything but their ad revenue. Yes they are approaching this the wrong way, but how do local entities fight Google?

Peter (profile) says:

Re: Re: Springer actually opted in!!!

Springer thought that robots.txt, an opt-out solution, was too much of a burden to their IT people, and lobbied the government to introduce the snippet tax in Germany. Which the government did.
Google delisted Springer.
And Springer begged Google on their knees to list them again. Free of charge, of course, since the extra traffic Google generates makes them a lot of money. Especially since they introduced paywalls for their major products …

Raises the question why Döpfner wants to repeat the exercise on a European level…

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Springer actually opted in!!!

Greed. They’ve seen it fail again, and again, and again, but they see all the money Google has and they just can’t help themselves, sure that this time it will work, this time Google will just pay them and they’ll be able to just sit back and collect the piles of money they’re sure the latest attempt will get them.

Alternatively(or additionally), they saw what happened in Spain and decided to try it on a larger scale. Sure everyone got less traffic after Google News pulled out of the country, but the smaller sites were hit much harder than the larger ones, which was great for eliminating any pesky competition indirectly, without actually having to compete.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Springer actually opted in!!!

I think the theory is that if they get a big enough block then Google won’t cut them all off. While Google dropped Spain would they be willing to cut off all of Europe? I suspect this is a bad gamble primarily because Google has already stated that they don’t get revenue from the snippet page (they show no advertising) and so won’t really suffer any negative consequences.

Griffdog (profile) says:

Re: IGetWhyButHowCanBeDifferent

I understand your frustration with how sometimes the link you want is on page 9, or the frustration of a small publisher whose link to a story is on page 13. But that’s not what’s happening here.
These are the big guys. They not only depend on Google to drive traffic to their sites, but they’re already listed on the first page of results, and they craft their webpages and place ads on Google to make sure you see their link on the first page. Then they use the free Google Analytics to evaluate their own website and further optimize the structure. They place Google Ads on their sites, so that when Google directs people to their site, they’ll make even more money when that same person clicks on the ad. These guys want a snippet tax because people actually see and click on their snippets. That hometown rag on page 13, it’s simply not going to get enough click-through volume to make a snippet tax worthwhile.
And if you think it reasonable that Google would pay a snippet tax to every entry on all 23 pages of results, then you’re nuts. If that happens, they’d just list the top dozen results, and the small guy’s result back on page 13 would never even appear.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: IGetWhyButHowCanBeDifferent

“It’s more like taking a picture using that picture and linking to dozens of paid sites that want to sell their butter and burying the originating producer of the butter under grease”

That is possibly the most painful analogy I’ve ever read. It’s actually more like giving a free sample of the butter and telling people where to go buy some if they want more.

“Google redirects (obfuscates! through their shear number of links) away from the source material or product and makes money irregardless of the consumer looking for local information.”

Google do not show ads on the news service, so any extra they make is as a result of other things associated and not directly through providing the service.

“Google could do better, could always highlight the originating story or product and keep it in view”

I’d have a look at Google News if I were you, because you apparently have no idea what it looks like.

“Yes they are approaching this the wrong way, but how do local entities fight Google?”

If they really don’t want Google to show their stories, they already have the tools available to them.

Unfortunately, that’s not the real issue. They are just trying to get free money from someone making more money than them. The fact that they haven’t decided to block Google traffic is evidence of that.

Anon says:

Good for them!

Imagine, encouraging AI research. Just think, when we have good AI, a bot will be able to read a news story, take the context and use a thesaurus, and tell you what the news story is all about – all without using any pair of original words and thus avoiding becoming a “snippet”…

After all, news is news. There was a time-honoured tradition where small-town newspapers would simply re-write wire stories. If the news sources then start complaining that rewrites should count, the next step in AI is to automatically rewrite the story using multiple sources.

Then what? If you mention a topic that was on our website (and others) you owe us all a snippet tax? Wait until video rendering can re-create news stories without the need to pay the TV networks…

Peter (profile) says:

We don't steal Butter. They do!

Ok, granted, in many cases, they just repackage Butter someone has given them freely: most of the reporting is just re-written PR-stuff from government and corporations.
Not always, though: Springer management has been quoted instructing their staff to lift crime victims pictures and info from Facebook and other social media – stating that grieving parents have other things on their mind than suing newspapers for copyright infringement.

Some cheek for the Master Thieves to accuse the rest of the world of stealing!

That One Guy (profile) says:

When your actions undermine your words

As always when they try to argue that the mean old Google is stealing from them it’s worth pointing out that for all their wailing and gnashing of teeth, their tears of victim-hood, they could stop the ‘theft’ in a day by simply making a slight change to their site’s code.

They want to be ‘stolen’ from because they and everyone else who’d been paying attention know that it benefits them, they just want that benefit and to be paid for it.

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