German publishers' anti-Google campaign is about paid content hopes, not just copyright

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Jasper Jackson, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Digital Media, Newspapers


Why do European publishers hate Google so much? Maybe it's fear, maybe it's legitimate concerns over market share. Or maybe it's about trying to build a paid content business model online.

Germany's Bundestag on Friday passed "ancillary copyright" legislation which forces search engines and aggregators to pay for republishing content, although a crucial last minute exemption allows the publishing of "individual words or short excerpts", allowing Google News to continue parsing stories (lawyers may disagree what constitutes "short").

The legislation (PDF, in German) like last month's Franco-Google entente - was designed to make Google pay for linking to news content. But the general consensus is that this provision will let Google off the hook, and the search engine has welcomed the removal of "the most damaging" parts of the law - while still criticising its existence in the first place. 

Publishers' paid content hopes

However, if you delve into the German publishers' legal action you'd discover another motive altogether: to make it easier for consumers to buy their content online.

A statement welcoming the ruling from the Brussels-based pressure group European Publishers Council (EPC) might shed some light: "The EPC believes that this law will help establish a market for aggregator content," reads the statement. "New innovative business models can now be built based on legally-licensed content."

So by providing a legal framework and definition for content-licensing, publishers have a better chance of building paid content platforms. The EPC is apparently working towards a technical solution called the Rights Reference Model under the banner of the Linked Content Coalition (LLC) to make that possible

According to the same statement: "The RRM brings together for the first time all the different licensing models and languages for all kinds of content: text, images, video, music, for example.

"This project seeks to solve the problem and address the criticism that it is often difficult to work out how to use online content legally – for individuals, businesses and for automated tools."

The publishers want to standardise descriptions of how a piece of content can be used, how long for and, crucially, how to pay for it, so aggregators know exactly where they stand.

Publishers will still have to come up with the business model - but the RRM will provide an infrastructure to help them do that. 

But will it work?

The description from the RRM's website provides a better idea of what is on the cards - a system similar to banking sector's International Banking Number: "The IBAN allows transactions to take place between banks all over the world despite each bank having their own internal systems.

"The LCC work will enable a similar level of functionality for accessing, using and sharing all kinds of digital content whether that be text, music or film, for example."

There is, however, no guarantee the RRM solution will work, or that aggregators have any interest in adopting it.

However, it hints that some publishers at least have learned a valuable lesson from the music and film industries: It's better to make it easier to access your content legally (and probably for a fee) than try to stop it getting on to the web in the first place. 

Yet the law has to get past the Germany's upper house, the Bundesrat, where Social Democrats and Green hold sway, both of whom oppose the law. "No one except for a few big publishers wants this law," says Green member Tabea Rössner (via NYT) “Certainly no one in the online world."

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