Germany has been in the media in recent weeks for all the wrong reasons. While its standing has suffered in the handling of the continuing crises in Europe, the most heated debate over the last few weeks has been the Leistungsschutzrecht, the ancillary copyright law.
The law has been one of the points in the government programme of Angela Merkel and her coalition government. What does it mean? For a start it is another one of those long words, the German language has the capacity to produce. This is where the funny bit ends. The law aims at protecting German newspaper publishers and their products, mainly online. Just like the music industry have such a law, the press argued that they should have a similar protective legislation. Their argument is that google is making profit with their content. This is not true. Google makes money, a lot of money, so much money that it sparked the envy of German publishers who struggle to cover their expenses for their online presence. Google however, makes money by advertising but NOT by selling any of the content that is linked via their search engine. This is a great misconception that no one has made the Germans aware of it appears.
By letting google spread their content online, newspapers get a click, thus their revenue increases. As does google’s. Both revenue streams are generated through advertizing. The debate in recent weeks can be described as Germany vs. Google. At least when reading some of the commentaries by the newspapers. A respected weekly paper wrote about an alligator that lives in google’s pond. The writer of the article subsequently argues that an alligator is at the heart of google. The parabola is clear: Google is portrayed as an alligator that eats us all as it is one of the biggest alligators on earth, an alligator mississipiensis. If not controlled and contained, the animal will outgrow the pond and thus threaten human life. Government intervention is necessary.
Another paper, one of the biggest dailies in Germany, have launched an attack that is surprising in its fierceness. They accuse google of being presumptuous and only profit minded. The business form the company pursues is labelled Silicon-Valley-Capitalism. While google used the slogan ‘keep the internet free’ publishers are offended by the boldness in google’s stance to mobilize the wider public in its move against the law. Themselves have only lobbied politicians for this law but have ignored their most important feature for success: the reader.
It is of course easy to state that there are alternatives as google is the most powerful search engine and used more than a billion times per day. This of course means content is spread quickly and rapidly. Other search engines might work similarly but do not enjoy the outreach of google. No one forces German papers to make their content available for google’s bots; the consequences however could be disastrous and certainly could lead to the death of many respected papers in Germany. The country has just woken up to the reality that online journalism does not pay and that maintaining high quality papers is not an easy task as two have gone out of business in recent days. This is a tragic loss to the varied media landscape Germany has.
However, the debate about the ancillary law suggests that the problems go far deeper than just the financial side of newspaper and online journalism in Germany. It is a problem of mentality in Germany. Online journalism does hardly provide balanced books while pay walls simply do not work too well either; in fact they drive readers away. The online side of journalism has been neglected by many publishers and they begin to feel the consequences. Moreover, it appears that the possibilities of online journalism have not been realized in Germany and elsewhere They are certainly not alone but in their reaction of accusing google of greed, they have chosen the path of the least resistance and it speaks volumes about their mindset.
- Google fighting German plan for linking fee (news.cnet.com)
- Google News wars are here again: Schmidt vs France on ‘news tax’ (paidcontent.org)
- Mozilla and German lawmakers spar in increasingly furious ‘link tax’ row (zdnet.com)
- Google Fires a Rare Public Salvo Over Aggregators (nytimes.com)
- Google launches petition against German ‘link tax’ proposals (zdnet.com)
- Google Resists As German Lawmakers Talk Law That Would Require It To Pay Publishers (webpronews.com)
- Google’s Data Center Alligators (datacenterknowledge.com)
- Google fights back against German ‘link tax’ proposal (itproportal.com)
- Google Asks German Users to “Defend Their Net” (pamil-visions.net)
- Google searches for web copyright bill opponents (thelocal.de)