Google Makes Google News In Germany Opt-In Only To Avoid Paying Fees Under New Copyright Law

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Gillmor Gang Live 06.21.13. (TCTV)

Google News in Germany will soon change. Starting August 1, it will only index sources that have decided to explicitly opt-in to being shown on the search giant’s news-aggregation service. Google News remains an opt-out service in the other 60 countries and languages it currently operates in, but since Germany passed a new copyright law earlier this year that takes effect on August 1, the company is in danger of having to pay newspapers, blogs and other publishers for the right to show even short snippets of news.

Publishers will have to go into Google’s News tools page to agree to be indexed by Google News. Publishers who don’t do this will simply be removed from the index come August 1.

Many of Germany’s publishers had hoped to force Google to pay a licensing fee for their content, but today’s announcement does not even mention this. Instead, Google notes that it is saddened by the fact that it has to make this change. On its German blog, Google argues that Google News currently gets 6 billion visits per month and that, if anything, it’s providing a free service for publishers that brings them more traffic.

One of the main issues with the “Leistungsschutzrecht” (how’s that for a good German word?) — the ancillary copyright law that the German government passed after large protests earlier this year — is that it’s not clear when a “snippet” becomes a snippet. The law doesn’t feature a clear definition of how long a snippet actually is (140 characters? 160? 250?).

Google always argued that the new law was neither necessary nor useful and that it wouldn’t pay for links and snippets. A number of major German publishers have already said that they will opt-in to being featured in Google News, but there is a good chance that quite a few will decide that they don’t need the traffic.