Posted March 13, 2012 4:36 pm by with 5 comments

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this page

Content is what makes Google run. Every result it returns is linked to a piece of content somewhere else on the web, be it an article, photo, video or website. Over the years, Google has increased the detail in their results so you get a better idea of what’s behind the curtain before you click.

All results have a couple of lines of text under them drawn from the start of the article or keywords from the site. Some even show you a preview of the site before you click. All of this is intended to help the searcher find what he needs. So it’s a good thing for both the searcher and the content provider, right?

The German government doesn’t think so. New legislation proposes that Google and other search engines and news aggregators are profiting off the works of others and offering nothing in return. So they want to create a new law that says anyone using even a snippet of someone else’s work would have to pay for the right.

Eric Pfanner, writing for the New York Times says;

The proposal addresses a debate that has raged since the early days of the Internet: Who benefits more from digital links and the traffic they generate — search engines, aggregators and other online hubs, or the sites that produce the content?

Google does not sell advertising on its German news aggregation service, which displays snippets of articles and links to the originating sites. But the company earns billions of euros from advertising on its search engine and other services.

Under the new law, if I was Google Germany, I’d have to pay the New York Times for posting that snippet here. But as a journalist, I’d be okay because. . .

Freedom of speech would be protected, they insist, because certain uses, like journalistic citations from other news articles, would be exempt. The coalition document says private Internet users would not have to pay any fees.

I certainly agree that content producers should be compensated when someone else profits from their work, but I can’t imagine how you would implement such a system. Imagine Google having to pay for every search result, every photo and every video that pops up on their pages.

If we’re talking about reproducing entire articles, then yes, payment is due. But where in between do we draw the line? Is a paragraph fair use? And how would you apply that to photos? It’s okay to show half a photo but if you show the whole photo then Google has to pay the creator? And who is the creator? With billions of photos being grabbed and shared from page to page, finding the original source is near impossible.

I like that Germany is trying to police unfair usage, but in this case, it’s likely that the users will simply close up shop and move out rather than comply. Don’t think so? When Amazon was told to pay sales tax in certain states, they simply cut off the thousands of affiliates who depend on that income. Don’t think Google wouldn’t hesitate to shut down rather than pay up.

  • What infuriates me about the Germans’ (and, to a lesser extent, Europeans’) views about Google’s content “theft” is that it’s in content publishers’ best interest to get exposure through the SERPs. Where content producers make their money is on their sites, and that’s precisely where Google drives traffic. And if your readers are satisfied by 25 words from your story, I respectfully submit that particular piece of content wasn’t worth paying for.

    More troubling is the notion that free speech would be “protected” – in the form of “journalistic citations” and other approved uses of content. I can just imagine the court battles over who and who is not a journalist (and nowhere would that argument rage more fiercely, I’m sure, than in Germany, the last bastion of carefully defined occupational categories). There’s no “freemium” model for truly free speech, which is what this initiative seems determined to create.

    • Cynthia Boris

      “And if your readers are satisfied by 25 words from your story, I respectfully submit that particular piece of content wasn’t worth paying for.”

      Love that. Yes. So very true. I feel like they have good intentions, but they’ve strayed way off the road.

  • Like Aaron says, how do you define who is a journalist? The Internet allows everyone to become a publisher and a citizen journalist of sorts, so where does the line get drawn. Do only large news organizations get to exempt themselves?

  • Jack H.

    Easy answer – if German companies are unhappy with Google showing these little snippets of text from their websites then they should remove their sites from the index….and then watch their sales fall off a cliff…..! And as far as I am aware, Google doesn’t actually make money from organic results so they are hardly “profiting off the works of others and offering nothing in return”

  • I can understand their point of view but realistically it’s never going to work. Who would voluntarily remove their listing from Google when any good sized web business probably gets a noticeable chunk of their traffic from it.