Newspaper publishers have long had a love-hate relationship with Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG): They love the audience; they hate the aggregation.
Now lawmakers in some European countries are weighing measures that would force Google and other aggregators to pay for reproducing content from news websites. The Economist reported such measures are being considered in Germany, France and Italy, where newspaper executives complain that Google is profiting from their content by running advertisements alongside its search results. Moreover, they argue, Google and other search engines cut into their audience by posting headlines and summaries in search results, thereby dissuading readers from clicking through to full articles.
The cabinet of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already approved a draft law that would extend copyright protection to the snippets of newspaper articles that show up in search results, according to the country's newsmagazine Der Spiegel. German lawmakers are considering the law this month and could pass it as early as spring of next year. “Publishers should be better protected on the Internet,” Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger wrote in a statement in late August. “They will now receive a tailor-made copyright law for their online presence.”
Google has vehemently criticized the draft law, with company representative Kay Overbeck calling it “a dark day for the Internet in Germany,” Der Spiegel reported. The Web giant argues that the benefit of search traffic goes both ways, with its Google News service funneling billions of page views to newspaper websites. In turn, publishers generate ad revenue based on traffic provided by Google.
In France, meanwhile, the proposal has gotten the attention of the country’s Union of the National Daily Press, which, according to Le Monde (via the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers), is said to be preparing to lobby against Google in the event that a measure similar to the German law is proposed in Paris.
Criticism of Google’s news service is not new. In 2009, Rupert Murdoch’s News International famously blocked Google’s crawlers from indexing content of the British newspaper the Times, whose website operates behind a pay wall. In September, however, Murdoch had an apparent change of heart and quietly lifted the block.
Google’s increasing dominance over the economics of the Internet has attracted scrutiny in the U.S. as well. The Federal Trade Commission is considering an antitrust case against the company, as more and more website publishers complain that Google manipulates its search results to favor its own products.
If the FTC proceeds, the case would be the largest antitrust action since the U.S. government took on the Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) in 1998.