In July, a month before Germany’s controversial copyright law requiring search engines to pay for featuring snippets of content was set to take effect, Google sent German newspaper publishers a letter asking whether they wanted to opt in to Google News

Rather than prepare to pay publishers when the law took effect on July 31August 1, Google, which dominates the search market in Germany, gave publishers three options:
 
—Yes, we want to remain part of Google News 
—No, take our articles off your search site
—Silence. No answer, however, would mean no articles on Google News

“Most of our members said, ‘Yes, but only temporarily,’” said Dietmar Wolf, general director of The Federation of German Newspaper Publishers. Only Rhein-Zeitung, which has one of the oldest Internet presences in Germany, opted out. 

But a quick glance at other, smaller German company shows a different picture. The company, rivva.de, announced in a July 27 blog posting that 650 local newspapers, magazines, and blogs along with “a few big names” would no longer be included in its aggregation, because the company feared it would not be complying with the new copyright law.

“LSR has failed miserably,” Justus Haucap, director of the Duesseldorf Institute for Competitive Economics, told Horizont.net. LSR is the abbreviation for the law, officially called Leistungsschutzrecht. The law is hurting companies it was not intended to hurt, Haucap said. He even foresees Google in the future charging publishers to be on Google News. 

For its part, Google continues to quietly push against LSR. The better way, it says repeatedly, is cooperation. Its latest olive branch was to announce that it would offer German magazines for sale on its Google Play site. But content creators remain wary, especially after Google sent that letter in July saying that their articles would no longer be displayed on Google News unless they opted in to the service.

“We were attacked,” said Andreas Tazl, a spokesman for the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Germans, known for their thoroughness, say they are in an intermezzo, taking their time now that LSR has taken effect to set up a system that will sustainably allow them to enforce the law.  Tazl said his paper is in talks with other publishers about developing a viable concept of collective rights management. 

“The fight over Leistungsschutzrecht has only just begun,” stated a headline in Die Zeit.

Christoph Keese, of the media company Axel Springer AG, which has led the fight for LSR, said his firm is in talks with VG Media, a collecting society.

By law, anyone who wants to copy an original creation—music, film, tv, or now, a news article—must asked for authorization and, usually, pay for it. To make it easy, collecting societies manage the rights of creative people collectively. In 2011, the last available data, these societies collected 1.3 billion euros (about $1.7 billion) in fees for its members.

“It’s fast, simple and un-bureaucratic,” Keese said, adding that VG Media was open to including newspaper publishers, journalists, and bloggers as new members. “Economically, there is no reason not to” be part of the collective rights management, he said.

Disclosure: CJR has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to cover intellectual-property issues, but the organization has no influence on the content.

If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of 10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.

 

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.