Germany strikes out in bid to make Google pay for headlines

Google Germany

It’s back to the drawing board for German lawmakers as their attempt to force Google into paying to show news headlines has come up short. Despite passing a controversial law last year to force the US search giant to pay copyright fees, Google’s plan to get around the law appears to be working.

As the AP reports, major German news outlets like Spiegel Online have chosen to opt in and receive exposure from Google News rather than sit on the sidelines.

Google, which has long argued that aggregating headlines is fair use, announced the “opt-in” scheme — which grants Google a license to publish the headlines — in June as a way to avoid paying for the German headlines.

As we explained at the time, the publishers who had cheered the controversial law were likely frustrated by Google’s end run around it.¬†From a policy perspective, however, Google’s opt-in decision was a sound one: governments in Europe have been invoking far-fetched copyright theories to justify attempts to blackmail the American company into subsidizing their struggling news industry. Paying for headlines would have simply encouraged this.

Recall also that Google News is distinct from scraping services like Meltwater, a controversial clipping company that has lost court cases on both sides of the Atlantic; judges have consistently found that it doesn’t have the right to copy the headline and the heart of news stories and send them to clients who are unlikely to see the original story.

Google News, in contrast, typically produces a flood of traffic for news outlets. News companies can also choose to opt out of Google News without incurring the so-called death penalty of being removed from Google’s main search results.

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