“Seeing search and aggregation as theft is absurd and false,” said Kay Oberbeck, a press spokesman for Google Deutschland. “Snippets are legal. Aggregators are no criminals.” The ancillary effect of the law would destroy search and find, a basic function of the Internet, he added.

Google’s website points out that it does not post any ads on its Google News site. Moreover, publishers benefit from the snippets because readers are directed to the newspapers’ websites, Oberbeck said. There are more than four billion clicks per month from Google searches to German newspapers, he said.

Not surprisingly, the press was largely skeptical of Google’s online lobbying. An editorial in Spiegel Online detailed instances where the company quoted studies out of the context to make its point.

Still, the proposed law has met great political resistance. Representatives from the Pirate Party, which fights against all online regulations, said they will fight against the measure. So will some members of left-leaning opposition parties, including the Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Linke. Even a smattering of members of the ruling conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, has expressed doubts about the proposal, worrying that it may impede Internet freedom.

Still Pasquay, of the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers, and others remain confident the law will pass, but it may not be so simple. This is an election year, so in the end the vote will come down to this: Will politicians want to be seen as guilty of killing off the local press, as the publishers argue? Or, killing off Internet freedom?

 

Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna.