Google on Tuesday launched a public campaign in an attempt to stop the German parliament passing legislation that would allow the country’s publishers to charge internet search engines for displaying links to newspaper articles on services like Google News.
Called “Protect your web – find what you’re looking for”, the web-based campaign warns Google users that the so-called ancillary copyright legislation could end their easy access to information on the web; a search function also shows publicly available telephone numbers and email addresses for their local lawmakers.
“We ask every internet user to advocate to defend the access to and the variety of information on the net and to protect search,” said Stefan Tweraser, country director at Google Germany. “We hope the German Bundestag will reject the bill.”
Google’s hope for grassroots involvement comes only months after a huge web campaign by internet activists against plans for the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – parliaments all over the world bowed to public pressure.
Nonetheless, the company’s rare resort to a public campaign also shows how much is at stake. The German push for ancillary copyright has roused the French government, which is hoping to cajole print publishers and internet companies into a voluntary agreement, and lawmakers in Italy have also recently shown interest.
Germany’s parliament on Thursday will for the first time debate a bill which is meant to give publishers more say over how their articles are used on the web. Search engines would have to ask for publishers’ permission to display links and snippets and it is hoped newspapers will be able to extract a licence fee in return.
The ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats hopes the rules, which could come into force next summer, would allow publishers to recoup some of the revenue they have lost to the web. But critics warn of dire consequences.
“Most people have never heard of this proposed legislation. But such a law would hit every internet user in Germany,” Mr Tweraser said, warning that an ancillary copyright meant “less information for consumers and higher costs for companies”.
Internet executives privately suggest Germany’s ruling coalition has given in to the political power of newspaper houses like Axel Springer, publisher of the influential tabloid Bild. But supporters of the bill argue that Germany is looking to protect intellectual property rights threatened by the web’s “free content” ethos.
The German association of newspaper publishers says newspaper revenues fell 20 per cent to €11bn per year between 2000 and 2009 as readers and advertisers migrated to the internet. It has warned that the country’s free press is in danger.
The association on Tuesday said – via Twitter – that Google was using “old arguments and stoking unjustified fears” about the effects of an ancillary copyright law.