Axel Springer to Google: “About that licence fee…”

07 Mar, 2013

It appears that the Germany ancillary copyright win for Google wasn’t quite so conclusive. Although the new ancillary copyright law states that “single words or small text excerpts” would remain free to use for aggregators and search engines, Axel Springer now feels it is within rights to ask a licence fee for Google’s use of snippets (average length: 20 words).

As could perhaps be expected, the vague text of the law leaves room for debate, and Springer is opening that debate right now. Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer said yesterday that he was “establishing a principle”. Springer will offer every web company using its content a licence. It says it hopes that Google signs up, and wouldn’t say whether it is prepared to go to court over the matter.

For Google, there’s a number of options.

1. It could do nothing and wait what a judge says. It’s hard to believe that a 20 word snippet doesn’t fall under fair use, somehow. And I’m pretty sure that Google can come up with “aggregated fragments” or “snippets” in Axel Springer newspapers that exceed the 20 word mark. Especially the more boulevard press like Bild see no qualms in quoting extensively from other sources (like blogs, forums, Twitter, Facebook statuses,…).

2. Don’t display any snippets for publishers. Or Google could choose not to display the snippets anymore, just the links and the headline. This would certainly decrease the number of clickthroughs that the Springer properties get, but it will also make Google search worse. Google has been reluctant to do anything that makes the user experience worse.

3. Radically remove Springer and others from its search engines. Again, Google is loathe to do this. It did this for a short time in Belgium in 2011, when it removed all the members of Copiepresse from its indexes. The move caused unrest among the publishers, however, who specified that they only wanted to opt out of Google News. Google restored the indexing four days later, after concessions from the publishers. In Brazil, it is not indexing publishers, but this is because the publishers opted out. It looks like Springer doesn’t want to opt out of being indexed – it just wants to be paid for it.

4. Pay. In the past, Google has shown that it’s willing to buy the peace for a few million here and there. While it recently said that the Google wallet would remain closed from now on, maybe a German ‘media innovation fund’ will see the light soon after all.

[FT][Photo: quapan, Flickr]

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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