Search engines, German newspaper publishers and users have traded barbs ahead of a copyright amendment to be debated Thursday by Germany's parliament. The government bill would allow charging of large content recyclers.
An intellectual property bill long sought by Germany's struggling newspaper houses has prompted a campaign by search engine Google. It has called on Internet users to dissuade parliamentarians from adopting the bill ahead of its first reading.
"We are pleased that this important debate about the German Internet is finally taking place," said a Google spokesman.
The bill would give newspapers the "exclusive right" to make their content publicly accessible on the Internet. Commercial search engines and so-called aggregators which re-bundle content would have to buy licenses from German publishers.
Free usage of links leading to the newspapers' content and quotes from articles would, however, still be open to individuals such as bloggers and some other enterprises, advocacy and communal organizations.
Payment 'self evident'
The German Federation of Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) backed the bill, saying it was "self-evident that someone who uses content commercially should also pay for it."
Its initiative follows recent announcements that several major newspapers such as the Frankfurter Rundschau and Financial Times Deutschland are facing closure after years of declining print circulation and earnings.
Trade unions representing journalists in Germany have also demanded that their members get a fair share of earnings from the proposed content licenses.
Opposition to the bill has come from youth sections of most of Germany's political parties in a rare joint appeal. They said publishers already had technical methods to "withhold" content from search engines and news aggregators.
"Publishing houses can always resort to accessibility and design rules for their content. We fail to understand why the legislature follows the publishers' argumentation that a legal loophole has to be closed," said the youth organizations.
Two parliamentary advocates of the bill, Günter Krings and Ansgar Heveling of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic party (CDU) accused Internet concerns of "misappropriating the supposed freedom of the Internet for their own lobbying purposes."
The current formulation of the bill, which was drawn up by the German justice ministry, is also opposed by the opposition Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party.
Warning from property rights jurists
Sixteen law professors associated with the immaterial goods faculty of Germany's Max Planck Institute warned on Thursday of "unforeseeable negative consequences" through the planned change to Germany's copyright law.
Both parties – publishers and Internet firms – were dependent on one another, said the professors.
"Without content the search engines would find nothing – and without search engines nothing would be found amongst the indeterminable mass of information in the Internet," the professors said.