Last spring, Google unsuccessfully tried to prevent a German copyright law that would require news aggregators to pay for the right to use original Web content from taking effect.

Now, the company has turned the tables. In a posting on its German-language blog—followed up by a registered letter to newspaper publishers and major bloggers—Google wrote that publishers must opt in to allow their sites to be used on Google News. If they do not actively confer permission then their website will not be displayed on Google News. The newspaper sites will still be searchable, however.

Deadline: August 1, which is when copyright law, known as LSR, takes effect.
A spokesman for the German Newspaper Publishers Association welcomed the initiative, saying it is the first official recognition by Google of the legality of LSR. Heretofore, Google had threatened to go to court over the matter.

Still, the publishers were not pleased with the offer. One described the situation as Google “putting a gun” to the heads of the publishers considering that the US-based Internet giant commands more than 90 percent of the search market in Germany.

“We see the opt-in order which Google is demanding from the publishers is really out of proportion,” said Oliver Eckart, general manager of soon-launching Huffington Post in Germany. “The supplier who is in a market-commanding position places a gun to our breasts.”

The association estimates that roughly 30 percent of all traffic to newspaper websites comes from Google searches. The percentage is “much lower” for Google News referrals, the spokesman said.

This is not how the publishers envisioned LSR. In legislative testimony, they laid out a plan where aggregators using newspaper content for profit would pay into a large pot, along the same lines as radio stations paying for music.

In an attempt to make up for falling advertising, publishers want aggregators to pay a licensing fee for the content. Google, however, is attempting to avoid having to pay for anything. One prominent publication, Zeit Online, has already announced it would sign the agreement - Zeit’s editors have consistently opposed LSR. Others are still considering their options.

Google’s communications office did not respond to a request for comment.

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.

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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.