German publishers accuse Google of “blackmail” as search firm axes News snippets

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Credit: Flickr/Spencer E Holtaway

Google will stop using snippets of text and thumbnails of images from certain major German publications in its Google News portal, the company announced on Wednesday. However, this move may still fail to settle the long-running dispute between the U.S. web giant and Germany’s most powerful print media outlets.

For many years big players like Axel Springer — publisher of the world’s bestselling non-Asian newspaper, Bild – have tried to get money out of the Google News system. First they wanted a paid content partnership where users would pay to follow a link to a story on, say, Bild. Then they turned it into a political fight, successfully pushing for a 2013 law called the Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger (LSR) that supposedly forces Google to pay royalties for using copyrighted text snippets in Google News.

Snippets snipped

As [company]Google[/company] has not paid up as planned, the publishers, which are members of a collection agency called VG Media, have sued it. Yesterday Google said it would simply stop using the snippets, leaving only headlines as Google News links for websites such as bild.de and hoerzu.de. Google Germany managing director Philipp Justus noted that other German aggregation portals such as web.de and T-Online have already stopped linking to VG Media members altogether.

“We regret this legal approach very much because every publisher could always decide whether and how its contents are displayed in our services themselves,” Justus wrote in a blog post.

So that settles the case then, right? Not quite. According to VG Media, the removal of its members’ snippets and thumbnails amounts to “blackmail.” In a statement, the organization claimed Google was enforcing its market power – Google has over 90 percent of the German search market – to gut the LSR and punish publishers that are trying to assert their intellectual property rights.

A VG Media spokesman told me on Thursday that the publishers do not fundamentally object to Google’s decision to stop showing snippets and thumbnails, but they do object to the fact that it’s only doing this for VG Media members.

Antitrust issue?

“Google is discriminating in that they do not show snippets and thumbnails for publishers that made a claim, but they still show snippets and thumbnails from other publishers,” he said. “They’re trying to [apply] economic pressure.”

VG Media had already complained to the German Federal Cartel Office – the country’s antitrust authority – about Google’s behavior back in May. That was after the web firm told the publishers that if they don’t want their results showing up in Google News, it can just stop showing those results.

The spokesman said VG Media was still in talks with the regulator about the case, and would add a complaint about this latest move. But how does this move harm consumers? I asked him. “Because they won’t have quality content in the future” if Google doesn’t pay for the snippets it uses, he claimed.

But surely Google actually helps publishers by sending traffic their way — do the publishers really believe that anyone sees a sentence-or-two-long snippet in Google News and then goes “Eh, that’s enough, I don’t need to click through”?

“We think this is happening but this is not something I really want to comment on right now,” the spokesman said. “This is an argument we hear a lot, but this is a two-sided situation. You may say publishers profit from a service such as Google, but Google profits because there is content from users such as publishers.”

7 Comments

Captive Audience

LOL. So when someone sends me a Cease and Desist it’s blackmail when I cease and desist?

WebGuyUK

Simple fact was that in some instances, Google’s “snippet” could be a complete explanation (say a query, definition request, etc) and might lead to no click to the destination web site, and no traffic (and therefore chance of possible advertising income).

As a firm invested in providing advertising, taking those “snippets” and depriving tens if not hundreds of thousands of web sites visitors, it seems Google was selfish and pretty greedy. I can see how the German media looks, snatching its ball back when Google won’t play fair, but can also see that Google took advantage.

While some may argue ‘fair use’ if a query is ‘answered’ in full by the ‘snippet’ Google has extracted from another source *whether it credits the source or not*, it deprives the source of a visitor/advertising opportunity = income. Quite rightly, with no income in the extreme situation of no visitors whatsoever (while perhaps unlikely), those sources could simply shut down and Google by its action, could honestly and correctly be blamed as the cause.

See a great example at http://searchengineland.com/google-scraper-tweet-185684

Mike

The problem I have with your argument is that the publishers are providing these snippets that answer questions in full. If they want the traffic they need to come up with content that provides more value than a 1-2 sentence phrase. Google isn’t doing anything wrong, and if the article titles and snippets answer the user’s question completely, I don’t see how the publisher can expect anything more, especially when there is no value being added by clicking on the article since you already have the answer.

News publishers know what they need to do to rank in Google searches, and every single word is in their titles and subtitles for that purpose. They make money inside Google’s system, and then complain when the system doesn’t give them as much money as possible. Sounds like the typical lazy European approach to business. If the article they are publishing can be completely communicated in 2 lines than the organic traffic is not going to come and most likely shouldn’t.

DJ

Google is not a private company. Google is a public company. They are definitely throwing their weight around, but that’s what businesses do. The Europeans want to dictate how Google works. Good luck with that. Google’s approach to displaying search content (with snippets) looks a lot like ‘fair use’ to me, and is highly beneficial to any business who’s content comes up in the search. If you don’t want your content to show up in Google at all, that can be arranged. Google could bypass Germany all together if that’s what the German’s want.

David Meyer

Be wary of conflating what German industry groups want and what Germans want. Just look at GEMA, the rights organization that’s made YouTube barely functional in Germany – ask an average German what they think of GEMA… it won’t be pretty.

akin67

It seems the publishers are the ones engaged in blackmail. If I understand their position correctly, they want Google to pay for displaying snippets of their articles in Google news search results, which is contrary to Google’s business model. Since this isn’t compatible with Google’s business model Google agrees to not display their snippets. Now the publisher feel this is blackmail, because no one will see their snippets and click over to read to full content on their site where they generate advertising revenue. So they now want to force Google to use the snippets but pay for it. This is very unreasonable. Google, as a private company should have the option to use the news and pay for it, or not use it and not pay for it.

David Meyer

I am inclined to agree with you. There are many good arguments for saying Google abuses its European monopoly, but I find it hard to see this as one of them.

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