Oh, those Germans


German publishers warring with Google — and the link and the internet — have now completed their humiliation at their own hands, capitulating to Google and allowing it to continue quoting and linking to them. How big of them.

The pathetic sequence of their fight:

1. German publishers under the banner of a so-called trade group called VG Media and led by conservative publisher Axel Springer called in who knows what political chits to get legislators to create a new, ancillary copyright law — the Leistungsschutzrecht — to forbid Google et al from quoting even snippets to link to them.

2. In negotiations in the legislature, snippets were then allowed.

3. The publishers went after Google anyway, contending that Google should pay them 11 percent of revenue over the use of snippets.

4. Google, being sued over the use of the snippets, said it would take down the snippets from those publishers this week.

5. The publishers said that for Google to take down the snippets they were using to blackmail Google amounted to Google blackmailing the publishers. And you thought Germans were logical.

6. The publishers went to the government cartel office to complain that Google was using its market power against them.

7. Officials laughed the publishers out of the cartel office.

8. Now the publishers have said that Google can use its snippets for free while this legal matter is being ironed out.

Of course, the publishers never wanted the snippets taken down because they depend on those snippets and links for the audience Google sends to them … for free. It is all their cynical game to try to disadvantage their new and smarter competitor. Those who can, compete. Those who can’t, use their political clout.

Enough. Genug.

I have written a much longer essay about the damage these German publishers are doing to Germany’s standing that I am trying to place in a print publication — so I can speak to the print people. I’ll link to it when that happens. Here’s the lede:

I worry about Germany and technology. I fear that protectionism from institutions that have been threatened by the internet — mainly media giants and government — and the perception of a rising tide of technopanic in the culture will lead to bad law, unnecessary regulation, dangerous precedents, and a hostile environment that will make technologists, investors, and partners wary of investing and working in Germany.

LATER: Ah, there’s another chapter already.

9. Like Japanese soldiers stuck on an island thinking the war continues, Axel Springer has declared that Google must take down snippets from four of its brands: Die Welt, and the auto, sport, and computer subbrands of Bild. Note well that they didn’t do that with superbrand Bild, their largest newspaper and the largest in Germany. They need the eggs. So as it loses its argument that Google is a cartel, the German publishers’ cartel crumbles.

  • The whole thing in a nutshell (in German): http://t.co/aw6MDt9dAe

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  • Indeed it is a very sad story for German publishing. If they were consistent in what they asked for publishers would have to pay any brand a license fee for using the brands logo when they publish a print advertising of this brand.
    I agree that this is a cause to worry about Germany and technology. My main fear however is that publishers have the role of educating the public and in that respect even the reporting of some economic newspapers still sees the internet more as a threat and less as an opportunity.
    On the positive side, I don’t have too much worries regarding the regulation side technology-wise. I am based in Germany and there is a lot of innovation activity going on, which is supported by many government initiatives.
    While publishers have a lot of influence, they luckily are not representative for tech innovation in Germany.

  • I’m waiting for them to print it all out.

  • Eberhard

    The German government cartel office are a bunch of cowards. They should have sided with the German publishers in their fight against Google.

    • jcStrabo


      • Eberhard

        Because, in the prevailing German view, Google are a monopoly company and should therefore be regulated. That’s what the cartel office is there for. We are funding those guys with our taxes, and yet they refuse to do anything. This is preposterous!

        By the way, I am not using Google myself, I prefer really good search engines instead. But I am but part of a small minority of Germans.

        • ManniCalavera

          This would be a sound demur, if the publishers actually would fight against Google because of its de facto monopol. But they just want to force Google to pay them money, because they don´t have an answer to technological development.

        • Eberhard

          Yes. Publishers want Google to pay them money. That is the law in Germany. If Google don’t want to comply with German laws, and pay up, they should quit Germany. Good bye!

          We don’t need American companies in this country, like Google or Uber, that simply refuse to comply with our local laws.

        • ManniCalavera

          Google did comply with german laws by unlisting the publishers. If the publishers want to have money from Google for being listed, they won´t get listed. But they want to get listed *and* be paid. And they want to enforce *both* things by law. Thats why the “Officials laughed the publishers out of the cartel office”

        • ManniCalavera

          BTW, the mixing of critizing the behaviour of companies with blatant xenophobia on a non-german website: chapeau!
          (which does not mean you encouraged to do this on german sites. I mean sth. different.)

        • Eberhard

          We haven’t seen the end of this story. I shall file a complaint with the German cartel office for laughing the publishers out of their office.

          I am paying those officers with my taxes, so I want them to properly do their job. If the cartel office refuses to act against Google, the officers should resign.

        • Christian

          Hmm, as a fellow German:

          I am paying those officers with my taxes, so I want them to properly do their job. Which in my opinion they did, and in a very competent way.
          If the cartel office refuses to act against the cartel the publishers are trying to maintain, the officers should resign.

          Isn’t democracy fun?

          really not sure if you’re not just trying to troll here, I’ve seen no real argument from your side on why exactly Google should pay here..apart from some misguided nationalism and vague references to some law that doesn’t exist.

        • Eberhard

          The law is called “Leistungsschutzrecht”. I am not trying to say that this law is great. But it is a law that needs to be obeyed as long as it is there.

          I just talked to an officer of the German cartel office on the phone, and he confirmed my view that they are not acting at all. They refused to comply with Google Germany to act according to §32c GWB

        • Sique

          Lets say in a village, there is a serious draught, and the crops are dying in the fields. So the villagers come together and conclude, that there has to be something done about it.

          So far, so well.

          But then a group of farmers ask for the sacrifice of a virgin to fight the draught, while others point out that the sacrifice of a virgin will do nothing about the rain, but the village will be one person short. And now the virgin has been sacrified, the village is one person short, but still no rain, but the group of farmers is already asking for the next sacrifice.

          You seem to be one of the people who, while rightly pointing out that there is a draught, and the mere existance of the farmers is in danger, seem to believe that the sacrifice was right in principle, because something had to be done about the rain, and you chastise all the others who were saying that killing someone will only make the situation worse.

        • Eberhard

          And by the way, ManniCalavera, it is illegal according to German law for Google to unlist those German publishers. So there you go, another unlawful act by Google.

        • ManniCalavera

          OK, maybe I was sloppy with the terms. they didn´t get unlisted completely, they are only showing what is necessarym but not Snippets.

          If thats illegal, I´d like to see a source. From looking around the kast twenty minutes, I can´t find one.

        • Eberhard

          Unfortunately, all the information is in German language only, since we are talking about a German law.

          You might like to have a look at http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kontrahierungszwang for starters. I am continuing discussions with the German cartel office on this issue.

          The relevant German law can be found here

        • Jeff Jarvis

          What do you mean you are “continuing discussions with the German cartel office”? Are you a publisher? A lawyer? A politician?

        • Eberhard

          Funny you should be asking this. When I gave this officer at the German cartel office, who is dealing with the Google case, a phone call, yesterday, enquiring about their decision, he asked exactly the same question. “Are you a publisher? A lawyer?” that’s what he wanted to know.

          I am neither. I am simply a German taxpayer, and I want the cartel guys to stop sleeping, and take a tougher stance regarding Google. Since I am the one paying this officer’s wages, he better listen to me.

        • Lars

          That would be a good argument, if google hat unlisted the publishers. The problem is, they weren’t unlisted. The only thing google did was changing the way of listing these publishers.
          So the publishers can choose between being listet with “snipplets” or just with a link.

          Obviously they want to be published with the snipplets.
          So there is no reason why the cartel office should do anything.

          I do understand some of the problems with Google. Nevertheless this fight for the “Leistungsschutzrecht” is not a fight against a monopoly, it is a fight for money.
          The publishers weren’t able to adapt to the modern technology and now they try everything to avoid financial losses.

          If they were clever they would team up with smaller search engines to make them more popular. For some reasons, which I don’t understand, they don’t want to do that. Contrary to that, the smaller search engines obey to that new law, because they don’t have enough influence to fight back.
          So now we have got the absurd situation that these publishers are supporting the power of Google instead of weaken it.

          The whole idea of this law was doomed to fail from the beginning.

        • Jeff Jarvis

          You are being as illogical as the publishers. Publishers: We demand you pay for our snippets. Google: OK, we won’t pay for your snippets and thus won’t use your snippets but we will continue to list you. Publishers: uh, uh….

        • pauliborn

          “Yes. Publishers want Google to pay them money. That is the law in Germany.” tsssss yeah sure it is.

        • pauliborn

          Germany gets old and grumpy and so do our creative heads. Instead of setting standards they stare at this wonderous internet and ask themselves “but someone said there would be money in it”.

        • Jeff Jarvis

          Ah, so here we get to it: anti-Americanism.

        • Stephan G.

          Since you are using alternatives, why are you holding up the monopoly argument? Prevailing seems a little far fetched from my point of view – you should base that on evidence, if mentioned.

          “really good search engines instead” – yes there might better ones for special cases. Alas, a nonsense argument.

          But why should the cartel office have sided with the publishers, respectively VG Media? I can’t think of anything but laughing out loud at the Springers and Keeses.

        • DJ Doena

          Eberhard, a monopolist or near-monopolist can be forced to _sell_ to their competitors. Like for example, the Deutsche Telekom has to offer the “last mile” to their smaller competitors. These competitors then have to _pay_ for what DT is forced to _sell_ them.

          That’s how cartel law works.

          What you cannot do, however, is force someone to _buy_ your stuff, no matter how big that someone is.

          I cannot manufacture a steering wheel and the force VW to _buy_ that steering wheel from me.

          But that’s exactly what Springer and VG Media are trying. They want Google to list them AND pay for said listing, i.e. be forced to buy their snippets!

          However, if Google were to _sell_ these spots in the search results, they could sue Google (due to its size) to list them. But then they would have to _pay_ for this service rendered, not recieve money!

        • Eberhard

          Well, Doena, IMHO cartel law never was applied to internet search engines before. I totally agree with you that forcing Google to buy your stuff would be something novel. Now don’t you agree that German law is very innovative in that respect? Why not try something new for a change?

          My main concern is that the law might only apply to big guys like Springer. I want Google to list my blog, and pay me, too. I am but a small guy and I want this law applied to my little blog, too.

        • DJ Doena

          What you have to ask yourself is: Who is the bigger profiteer of this link: You or Google? Does Google really make money listing your small blog? Or do you get more visitors (or any visitors at all!) because of that link.

        • Eberhard

          I get visitors to my blog because Google, Yahoo, Facebook and others are linking to it. And yes, Google is using the contents of my blog to populate its SERPs. Without web sites, Google wouldn’t have the ability to display search engine results, and advertisements alongside them.

          Therefore, Google is using my intellectual property, and that of other web site owners, in order to make money. There is no reason at all why Google shouldn’t share this money with us.

        • Lars

          Let’s consider your argument “without web sites, Google wouldn’t have the ability to display search engine results, and advertisements alongside them.” valid for a second.

          The logical consequence is that the taxicab driver has to give a share of his profit to the railway or airport company. Without these companies he wouldn’t have people who would want to drive to these places and therefore not make any profit.

          Also, Yellow Pages would have to pay all the companies it lists – without companies, Yellow Pages would be empty. Right now, Yellow Pages even dares to demand money from companies for listing them – wouldn’t this be even more so a violation of cartel rights? They don’t even list the companies for free.

          So, do you agree that taxicab drivers should share their profit?

        • Eberhard

          As an alternative to paying me directly, Google (and taxicab drivers, for that matter) could simply be paying taxes, in order for the Government to provide public services that I can use.

          Just wondering how much Google are paying in taxes to the German Government.

        • Jeff Jarvis

          Well-said. And the publishers were the ones acting like a cartel. In America, I think they’d have been liable for antitrust investigation for their collusion.

  • pauliborn

    As a german I am very ashamed. Our problem is that we are to late in many aspects of todays media. It seems like we watch what others do, but need to long to use it for ourselfs. Another example: Ads are a way to finance websites. Now all of the new browsers have adblocker installed. As a reaction many other countrys than changed the way they use ads. We send commercials where an actor asks you to deactivate your adblocker, because content costs money. Instead of changing the way, we just beg and hope that it wont change.

  • Hilmar

    I just want to make sure that people like Eberhard are a minority in Germany. I hope he doesn’t want to sue you to pay for his comments ;-)

    Most people in Germany are laughing about the press companies getting the Leistungsschutzrecht and now complaining what they got.

  • Kai

    I can assure you, that most Germans, if they inform tehmselves about Leistungsschutzrecht, would be laughing about the VG Media, wouldn’t the issue be too dangerous and illogical and cynical. My friends and me shake our heads in disbelief at the publishers, but what can we do? We are just readers. We don’t consume their papers (reading instead online), so we have no economical influence. And as normal citizens, we have not the political influence like the publishers, wo have used their influence to get the (in my eyes illegal) Leistungsschutzrecht in the first place.
    Everyone can see, that it is the simple try to cash in on Google’s business idea, instead of having good business ideas themselves. And it’s obvious that this had to fail: If the publishers want Google to pay for snippets, Google won’t use snippets. End of story.

    BTW: I’m very aware of the danger of monopols, and prefer to let the market be regulated by the government, when it makes sense. But this doesn’t make sense.
    Eberhard is IMO either an idiot or an comedian. I’m not sure which…

    • Eberhard

      Some Germans laugh about VG Media since they are hooked up by Google. Poor guys.

    • ManniCalavera

      Yeah, his answers are suspiciously structured like stereotypical commentaries on certain sites translated in english. I´m leaning towards satire a little bit, too, becausehis picture does look like stock imaging, too. If so, you got me going, Eberhard, congratalutions.

    • Marcel

      speaking of comedy, I truly thought this Leistungsschutzrecht debate as such was a comedy made up by publishers to create a discussion, report about it and sell more of their products and for a funny reason the german parliament didn’t get that and really made a law about it. Now the publishers have to pull it through and they don’t know how to get out of that :-)

      Seriously, no German with some sense of intelligence can really think that this law or initiative is based on facts but only based on fear to lose business.

  • Popeye

    Dear Eberhard, you mentioned that Google is not allowed to unlist Publishers. Can you mention which law should it be you refer to.?
    I only see that the Leistungsschutzrecht says that if you publish snippets or pictures as a commercial offer you have to pay but when you publish only titels you don’t have to. This is what Google is doing now.

    • Eberhard

      Dear Popeye, you are right – the law (called GWB or “law against obstruction of competition”) does not specifically mention the unlisting of publishers by Google. But Google wanted to make the German cartel office not apply these terms at all (§32c GWB) and the cartel office turned down Google’s request. From this, I deduce that the GWB might apply to Google after all. Google themselves are referring to this law.

  • Rob

    As a German I can only shake my head about what those publishers tried to achieve. And I don’t like how easily they were able to make the government pass a new law, especially one as silly as this. While Google remained strong and those publishers couldn’t strike a win (now they give Google the permission to use snippets, which is possible with the new law), it is still a loss for many other news aggregators, because they won’t get a permission as easily. Which, as a consequence, makes Google even stronger in this market (which was a complaint of the publishers). German internet users now have less choice to find news at one place from several sources… A complete back-fire for everyone

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  • Michael

    All I can say – also as a German – we’re pretty much about to become the world’s most riddiculous nation. To put in one line: if there’s no law or regulation how to put your bottom on a toilet seat, our politicians would do meetings, create task forces, studies and whatnot to find out if such law is needed – and introduce it regardless of the outcome of any results.

    This is especially a problem since we’ve a huge lobbyism problem here – entitled guys of industry and commerce who do everything to get their way – and everything related to the content industry is the worst. We’ve got the GEMA – which is more or less the “German RIAA” as well as the VG Media and such. All of them pretend to protect intellectual property – but all they do is to fill their own pockets.

    Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have a problem with intelectual property. I do, however, have a major issue with those organisations. They’re modern highwaymen, “collecting” money everywhere for even the tiniest bit of non-commercial-used line – they’re entitled in any way possible, whine whenever needed and manipulate politicians to invent new stupid laws to make it even harder to NOT become a criminal while contributing to the internet.

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