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+

Filed Under: ancillary copyright, germany, google news, snippet tax
Companies: google, vg media

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  1. identicon
    David, 24 Sep 2015 @ 4:22am

    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.

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