Google has fended off a German publishers’ campaign that wouldforce it to pay for linking to news articles, after a watered-downversion of a controversial law was passed in parliament – but mayface further legal battles.The search engine will still be allowed to link to “singlewords or very small text excerpts” from websites of newspublishers. But now arguments may break out over what constitutesan ‘excerpt’ – a term not strictly defined in the legislation.The ancillary copyright law was passed by 293 to 243 votes inthe the lower chamber of parliament, after backing from theright-wing ruling coalition.After a months-long public campaign against the legislation,Google expressed reserved relief at the final formulation of thelaw.“As a result of today’s vote, ancillary copyright in its mostdamaging form has been stopped. However, the best outcome forGermany would be no new legislation because it threatensinnovation, particularly for startups,” said Ralf Bremer, thesearch engine’s spokesman in the country.Nonetheless, the publishers association BDVZ put on a braveface, saying the law will “enable portals to set the conditionsunder which their content is used by search engines and aggregatesfor commercial purposes.”German publishers argued that aggregation sites, such as GoogleNews, which collects articles from various sources and sorts themby headline, have replaced the front pages of newspapers, andallowed web engines to use the content to make their money offadvertising.But Google, from links in which more than six billion articlesare accessed every month around the world, said it was doing justthe opposite.The search engine claimed that its aggregation service is awin-win situation for the customer, who gets easier access toinformation, the news sources themselves, which can attract abigger audience, and the company itself, which earns money from theadvertising on its own linking page.Once an original, harsher draft of the law was aired, Googlestarted a petition arguing that the legislation was impedingfreedom of information.The opponents of the law, which included the opposition parties,and the majority of bloggers, also argued that it would make itharder for less established news media to gain viewer access, andnoted that if individual companies wanted to opt out of Google’ssearch engines, they could do so, without forcing others who do notdesire it.In response to the outcry, German lawmakers backed away fromwhat even its proponents claimed was an “unprecedented law,”instead agreeing on a compromise that may or may not change thestatus quo. This will depend on whether the publishers decide thatthe current Google News summaries that amount to three lines aretoo long.The law may also be foiled during an upcoming vote in theBundesrat, the upper chamber of parliament, as it is dominated bythe opposition parties.Google has faced similar attacks from newspapers in Belgium andFrance. Last month it agreed to pay a settlement of €60 million toFrench publishers for the right to continue displaying its newslinks, and it made a “partnership agreement” with Belgiannewspapers, following a six year legal battle.But in Brazil there has been no compromise. Last year more than90 percent of the local media unilaterally withdrew itself fromGoogle News.
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