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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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 8:55am

    ... 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 10:55am

      Re: ... and then what?

      In addition, people will avoid their pathetic website

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        techflaws (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 12:48pm

        Re: Re: ... and then what?

        If only. BILD managed to get the crazy court of Hamburg to forbid anyone to tell people how to bypass their site's anti adblocker. This will likely be tested in other courts but the question remains why people would go to read their crap in the first place.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      OldGeezer (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 3:20pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 11:04am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kal Zekdor (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 11:10am

    Compound words

    Not trying to defend this decision, but 7 words in German can convey a hell of a lot more information than 7 words in English, thanks to the crazy compound words you'll find in German.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 11:27am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ninja (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 11:38am

      Re: Compound words

      Why agreed. You can describe the idiots behind the idea Schwachsinnige even though I thought about at least two dozen words that would describe them.

      Note: cursing looks and sounds much better in German. (No offense towards Germans meant ;D)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 11:53am

      Re: Compound words

      Does the law cover hyphenated words? In English, we count such words as a single compound word. E.g., red-headed is a compound word meaning the same as the phrase "having red hair". If the law doesn't cover that, maybe google could just insert hyphens between ALL the words. :)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 11:14am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 11:30am

    The Copyright Arbitration Board of the

    Sorry, that's all I can afford.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 12:01pm

    How about embedding eight words in an image instead. Then they are not words - the image just shows representations of words.

    Or display eight-word snippets in morse code. Which would all cause us to burn more calories while our brains translate manually. Win-win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Max (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 12:03pm

    One search result found:

    "To be or not to be, that is [one or more words removed by DPMA]"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    quantim, 6 Nov 2015 @ 12:14pm

    Why stop at seven words?

    Let's take this to the logical conclusion. A snippet is a SINGLE word. When people go to google something, their search results return NOTHING! Oh crap, guess that was a bad idea, huh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      techflaws (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 12:53pm

      Re: Why stop at seven words?

      No, that was the original idea derived from a verdict by Germany's High Court (civil) BGH concerning music samples that the German band Kraftwerk sued others over. Not a single sample like a 'clang' can be used without permission.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 12:56pm

    "... also termed the 'snippet levy'."

    Snippet Levy... I once knew a moyel by that name...

    (fah-dump-bump)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 1:30pm

    I have a snippet for them then:

    "Throwing shit, until something sticks"
    I didn't even use my quota.... maybe I should add a "You Suck!" at the end?
    Seven words did quite well in summarizing this entire farce, I think.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Nov 2015 @ 1:36pm

    I'm really confused at this point. Haven't the Germans noticed that every damn time they try to gouge money out of Google, they wind up hurting their own industries thanks to loss of traffic, and are forced to back down? At some point, you realize that trying to take Moscow just ain't gonna work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gothenem (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 2:06pm

    "Imagine a situation in which snippets, a"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CharlieBrown, 6 Nov 2015 @ 2:43pm

    the Berne Convention

    One thing that shits me with convention is that we're relying on a 120+ year old agreement to determine today's copyright laws?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      J.R., 7 Nov 2015 @ 10:48am

      Re: the Berne Convention

      And how old is "Thou shalt not kill."? ;-)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 7 Nov 2015 @ 10:59am

        Re: Re: the Berne Convention

        Yep. I hate arguments that say a law is questionable because it's old. How long it's been on the books is irrelevant. There are very good laws that have been around for as long as there have been laws, and there are brand-spanking new laws that are disastrous.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Niall (profile), 8 Nov 2015 @ 7:47am

          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...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 8 Nov 2015 @ 11:57am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: the Berne Convention

            Laws can become out of date, of course. But in those cases, the argument or objection to the law is not "it's too old". It's the the law has become incorrect.

            You argue against the law on its merits, not on its age.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 7:44pm

    Like those guys about what the written texts say.
    In their opinion, the law is whatever they say it is.
    And that opinion will persist as long as politicians in particular listen to their lies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 6 Nov 2015 @ 7:44pm

    Like those guys care about what the written texts say.
    In their opinion, the law is whatever they say it is.
    And that opinion will persist as long as politicians in particular listen to their lies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 6 Nov 2015 @ 8:25pm

    PLEASE!

    Germany, you gave us beer as we know it. Don't ruin it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Nov 2015 @ 7:47am

    Compound words

    A lot of German words translate to several words in English. Is this a plot to make everyone learn German?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 7 Nov 2015 @ 12:27pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Nov 2015 @ 3:03am

    Germany Wants Snippet; Likely To Breach Convention

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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