Newspapers more aggressive in demands for a share of search profits

The German bill, which is designed to protect the struggling newspaper companies, has been watered down and is now criticized because it fails to make search engines such as Google pay for news ‘snippets’. “It is not at all clear who is now meant to be protected from whom and why there is this law," said the opposition Greens on their website on Friday, saying the bill served neither cash-strapped publishers nor the free flow of information – reported by Reuters.

The original intent had largely been aimed at Google. Last November, TechCrunch reported, “The publishers no longer want to see their actual work and their performance being ‘pirated’ by Google and other service providers,” explained Igor Barabash of law firm, Pinsent Masons. “The argument is that all the work is done by the publishers and that Google et al. are making money by using this work free of charge.”

In the event, search engines have been excluded, with the bill specifying that it is not intended to protect newspapers from the effects of ongoing structural changes in the market. Nevertheless, Google is still critical of the bill, saying it “is neither necessary nor sensible.” It is suspected that Google’s active lobbying against the bill played a major part in watering it down (Google launched a campaign aimed at users and suggesting that ‘their internet’ was under threat – and Angela Merkel faces the users in an election in September). The German upper house, the Bundesrat, where Merkel does not have a majority, could still block the bill as it currently stands.

Meanwhile, in the US, Associated Press has launched suit against Meltwater, describing its monitoring service as a “parasitic business model.” Meltwater scrapes more than 150,000 online news outlets to provide its paying customers with relevant news coverage about themselves. AP is asking the court to block the company’s services, and is demanding damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.

Meltwater claims it is just a search engine, customized to provide a service to its 18,000 or so customers – and it is not short of supporters defending it against AP. The EFF has joined with an amicus brief, claiming that AP is using a “dangerously narrow” view of copyright, and “that AP’s theory would restrict the use and development of services that allow users to find, organize, and share public information.”

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (a non-profit association that includes Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Sprint, T-Mobile and many other major companies) has similarly filed an amicus brief. It claims an important issue is at stake. “Search engines are an indispensable feature of the Internet,” concludes the brief, “and they will only become more important as the Internet grows and technology improves. This is all the more true when users seek out facts related to recent news events—facts which no one owns.”

AP does, of course, have its own supporters. The New York Times and other newspapers have filed in favor of AP: “There is no evidence that requiring Meltwater to pay a licensing fee, or stop using the AP's content, would have any impact on technological innovation,” they say, according to Online Media Daily.

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