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 Döpfner'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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  1. identicon
    David, 14 Jun 2018 @ 5:39am

    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.

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