Saturday, September 08, 2012

Copyright Law Draft in Germany Proposes that News Aggregators Should Have to Pay a Royalty Fee for Use of News Snippets from Original News Publications

What usage of "original news" is permitted without liability for copyright infringement? This is an interesting question of copyright law in the Internet age that has come the forefront in new legislative developments in Germany.

Traditionally, one uses online snippets of news and other quotes from online news publications without paying the original news publisher any copyright royalties for such a use. We do this all the time on our blogs, linking of course to the original story, not only for purposes of attribution, but also to give the reader the opportunity to read the entire article that is referenced in a snippet. In doing so, we think we do news publishers a service by drawing new readers to them. As a blog, we certainly take no readers away from them.

However, in a new development whose full extent is uncertain, a new web copyright law in draft in Germany finds that German Lawmakers Propose Charging Fees to Aggregators Like Google.

According to the bill proposed in Germany, news aggregators and sites like Google News would have to pay original news publishers royalties for snippets taken from their publications.

Similarly, there is also a Google main menu "News" option for keyword search. Would that also be affected? Just what degree of "news use" is permitted without liability for copyright infringement?

Web activists and freedom of speech advocates have raised an outcry over the proposed German legislation, but we find it logical that publishers of original new material should obtain fees for substantial commercial use by news aggregator sites, whose pages are not only popular (taking readers away from original news publishers) but also take in considerable advertising revenue, revenue not shared with original news publishers.

Obviously, if publishers of original materials are not compensated, there may come a day down the road when there are few or no original news publishers left, since they will be unable to finance their operations adequately as news providers, as aggregators pull in all the revenues.

From the standpoint of copyright law, there is nothing wrong with having news aggregators and other online services having to pay a fee to original news publishers if such third parties use that original material to make a profit.

That has always been a standard approach to copyrights.

Of course, one must take care to insure by law that the use of news snippets by primarily non-profit sites such as blogs remains free of charge, otherwise there would indeed be an unanswerable chilling of freedom of speech.

Consider also the reverse situation of an original news publisher who uses snippets of text from original material posted to a blog. Should such a news publisher have to pay the blogger a token royalty? Absolutely!

As a practical matter, however, keeping track of specific use on a case by case basis would be a nightmare, and determining the amount of royalties per instance of use equally so, since any one newspaper article, news snippet, blog posting or text snippet citation is only a "very small item" in terms of its miniscule financial value to anyone.

Perhaps the solution is a blanket annual fee to be paid by news aggregators to the original news publishers whose publications they snippet for profit.

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