Google uses people power to fight German legislation

29 Nov, 2012

Proposed bill could see search engines forced to pay if they include news stories less than a year old in search results.

Google has launched a viral campaign, trying to enlist public support against a proposed German law that could see it and other search engines forced to pay publishers royalties on search results.

The draft ancillary copyright for press publishers bill, which is set to be discussed late on Thursday evening, proposes that publishers could charge search engines for displaying snippets of articles that are under 12 months old in search results, or even sue them for copyright infringement.

If snippets and headlines require license fees ... search engines could (and likely will) simply remove the publishers from their index.

Google has hit back with a campaign called 'Defend your net - Will you be able to find what you are looking for in the future?', which warns users that the legislation could put a stop to easy access to information online. The campaign also includes a video that had been viewed approximately 80,000 times in just two days, showcasing the most important news searches from the last few months of the type that could be blocked by the new bill.

German lawyer Igor Barabash, who specialises in copyright law, told the campaign was "pretty clever", presenting information on the proposed changes to the law from a ‘pro-Google’ point of view and connecting users directly with the law makers.

Such tactics have been seen to work in campaigns run by pressure groups such as Avaaz and 38degrees.

Barabash also stated he believes Google chose to launch a pre-emptive campaign to prevent the draft bill being brought into force due to the difficulty and time consuming nature of trying to get enacted laws repealed.

"Bringing in the public opinion and therefore putting additional pressure on the government and the Bundestag would be the next logical step," Barabash said.

Mozilla, which derives almost all of its revenue from search engine deals, leant its backing to the Google campaign.

“Adopting such rules may be bad for users and the web. If snippets and headlines require license fees, the ability to locate information may be curtailed as search engines could (and likely will) simply remove the publishers from their index,” the company said in a blog post.

However, the two biggest parties in the German government rebuked Google for its actions, saying “it is remarkable that a company would use the public for its own economic interests.”