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Summary:

Google exists because, by and large, it is allowed to excerpt web pages without being held liable as a publisher. Now moves in Germany and Australia threaten both of those core facts.

Its own public policy lobbying is now not enough. Google has taken the rare step of devoting homepage space to urge its German users to oppose government-proposed copyright reforms on its behalf.

Proposed in August and coming up for first reading in the Bundestag this Thursday, the Leistungsschutzrecht — or, ancillary copyright — would give news publishers the exclusive right to control re-uses of their output, requiring others obtain a license even to excerpt.

Google fought back on Tuesday by using a google.de homepage campaign to ask users to complain to elected representatives, casting the issue as one both of fundamental freedoms and of practicality: “For you, it would be so much more difficult on the internet to find the information that you seek. Defend your network.”

It is a mark of how seriously Google is taking the threat that it is trying to appeal to users’ emotions, enlisting them to fight the proposals. Google argues Leistungsschutzrecht will “damage the German economy” and “threaten the diversity of information”.

German publishers have formed their own counter-campaign

Google is widely thought to be allowed to crawl news stories of which it republishes only excerpts. Emerging law may suggest otherwise — a Belgian court ruled in 2007 that it did not have the right to run such excerpts and UK copyright authorities this year ruled commercial news aggregators (though not free alternatives like Google News) must pay a license for doing so.

In Belgium, news stories were only returned to Google after a private commercial agreement between it and publishers. So German publishers may feel confident in seeking an equivalent arrangement. And that would challenge the widely-held belief in free online excerpting.

But Germany is not the only front on which Google is facing a threat to these core values on which it operates…

This week an Australian court ruled Google had defamed a man wrongly accused of being a criminal in a web page not hosted by but indexed by Google for its search results.

That contradicts the settled view of many legal jurisdictions that online platforms are not to be considered publishers of information placed by others, though is consistent with other case law that holds such platforms liable from the moment they are made aware of infringing material on their platform.

My colleague, paidContent legal correspondent Jeff Roberts, says this may make it more likely would-be litigants shop for victories in forums like Australia.

France also recently set Google a year’s-end deadline for agreeing to voluntarily pay news publishers — or  it may legislate that it must pay a levy for the privilege. Google told French ministers such a compulsion would “threaten its very existence”.

So now Google is battling challenge to two of its central tenets — that it is not a publisher and only excerpts parts of articles.

Asked why its members don’t just block Google using robots.txt, the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers on Tuesday said via Twitter: “Robots.txt is a standard from the internet stone age. Why doesn’t Google want to use (alternative standard) ASCAP ACAP, that is the question.”

  1. What does ASCAP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Society_of_Composers,_Authors_and_Publishers) have to do with robots.txt? Google should just call the publishers’ bluff and stop indexing their content. Let the publishers see their visitor numbers go down dramatically and explain that to their shareholders.

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    1. I believe the ASCAP standard is a royalty payment system. Google has been riding a razor’s edge of interpretation for a long time now, making enormous profits from advertising and not the least bit interested in sharing any of it with the creators and copyright holders of content. There are systems in place for publisher’s to be justly compensated when their content is used, similar to the way composers/copyright holders are rewarded when music is played in public. Google has exploited all other media not covered by ASCAP — you don’t find music indexed on Google the way print, images, and video are, and there is a good reason for that.

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      1. Orwell Upgraded Tuesday, November 27, 2012

        They can already prevent indexing if they want. Its easy. They are just being intentionally stupid & greedy.

        Its like charging librarians each time they suggest a book to someone asking. Only copyright can make people crazy enough to do mental gymnastics like that.

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      2. Are you serious? Your comment is wrong on so MANY levels:

        1. Google runs what is probably the biggest 3rd party networks for compensating content creators and publishers, big both in volume and the amount of money paid. This includes Google’s revenue sharing schemes like Adsense and YouTube revenue sharing.

        2. Even if you don’t participate in Google’s revenue sharing programs, if your content is good, Google will still be one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, facilitators of your online revenue by sending people your way through search results. For MOST of the websites in the world, especially the popular ones, Google is the biggest traffic referrer, and there by facilitator of income.

        3. If you don’t want Google indexing your content and making any profit out of your content, it is EXTREMELY easy for you to opt out of Google indexing.

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      3. Dominic v. Bülow Wednesday, November 28, 2012

        If Google didn’t index peoples content how would anyone find/read publishers stuff at all? Are you kidding!!! Now they want to be paid from Google because Google lets people find there content when they do a search! Wow people are going way overboard in the name of “copyright infringement” for a while and this just shows how crazy it gets…..maybe Google show make them pay per search they do on Google…what a boat load of idiots.

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  2. Umm ACAP, Automated Content Access Protocol. The notability box on the Wikipedia article is a good answer to the german federation.

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    1. Well whaddyaknow? Apparently changing laws comes easier to these people than writing a robots.txt. Who’s stone-age now? :-)

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  3. I’m looking at my Google News page and I don’t see a single advertisement. I don’t pay a cent to Google to look at the page, and cannot look at, let along click on an advertisement that would generate them any revenue. In fact, I think the other poster makes a valid point. The free topical indexing Google provides points readers to articles posted online that might otherwise be completely ignored. This increased traffic brings readers to their sites, which they can then use to sell banner adds and such, increasing their revenue stream.

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  4. Orwell Upgraded Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    Copyright related institutions seem to be intent of total destruction of the people they are supposed to represent at the moment.

    Every new desperate step makes them seem crazier than before. Every bit of logic more deranged than the last. Its like watching someone have a mental breakdown.

    I hope it’s not too long before governments wake up and do the kind thing like putting a wounded animal out of it’s misery. Unfortunately they spend a lot of money on politics now and politicians are often not very bright and believe their silly ideas.

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