If you search for a current event on Google, a preview of the text is often displayed in the results: heading, image, the first sentences of the teaser. But this preview could look very different in the future. Then it could be that services like Google only display the headline and a postage-sized photo. This is because they do not want to enter into complicated and possibly expensive negotiations with the publishers. At least that is the result of a new draft discussion on so-called ancillary copyright law, which the Federal Ministry of Justice published on Thursday.
With its draft, the ministry is implementing part of the European copyright reform, specifically the ancillary copyright law for press publishers. This should enable publishers to demand money from Google and other online services in the future if they display their text extracts.
It basically involves a dispute between publishers and large internet companies. Publishers accuse search engines of presenting parts of publisher content on services such as Google News, generating sales through them, but not involving publishers. The Federal Ministry of Justice also follows this argument in the paper that has now been submitted: The introduction of ancillary services law should be understood "in response to the increasing erosion of the economic foundations of the press", while new business models on the Internet are based on using text extracts for one's own added value.
"Very short excerpts" is very vague
However, what remains unmentioned is that the relationship is not as parasitic as the publishers would like to believe, rather it is symbiotic. Google actually shows titles and sub-lines that come from media. However, the media also benefit from Google because the search engine prominently displays the content and thus it is also presented to users who, for example, do not call up the homepage of the publishing offers. This gives the media reach and clicks - and ultimately sales as well, because every text is usually played with advertisements that publishers earn on.
Even before the EU copyright reform was passed, many points had been criticized as to how the ancillary copyright law should be redefined there. This is one of the reasons why exceptions were defined in the adopted version: According to the EU directive, services such as Google should continue to quote "individual words or very short extracts" from an article. The Federal Ministry of Justice now has the less than grateful task of implementing the ancillary copyright law and thereby concretizing what the legislators in Brussels have deliberately left vague. According to the draft now published, headings are allowed.
The proposal is unusual to apply the ancillary copyright not only to text snippets, but also to images, video and audio snippets. According to the draft, online services should only display pictures in a size of 128 by 128 pixels, video and audio sections should not be longer than three seconds. Anything that is longer or larger must be coordinated by the online services with the authors and, of course, under certain circumstances: pay.
For users, this may mean a poorer service: depending on the heading, what a text is about is no longer immediately apparent - not only on services such as Google News, but also on portals such as Twitter or Facebook, which usually play previews of texts.
Users may also have to be careful when sharing text. The draft states that users should still be able to use texts for private and non-commercial purposes without publishers being able to charge them for it. But what that means exactly remains unclear, says EU parliamentarian Tiemo Wölken (SPD): "Private cannot mean publicly either." This means that users should no longer be able to distribute longer text extracts on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter because they can be viewed there publicly, unless a user only shares her tweets privately with her followers or speaks to the publishers. "That would completely change the flow of information on the net", Wölken fears. Added to this is the uncertainty as to who is a private user: In the past, the question has repeatedly arisen as to whether journalists' Twitter profiles can even be considered a private means of distribution.
And: Even if users are allowed to continue to share everything, not only large companies like Google are affected by the regulation. "Actually, it's a battle of the giants: big publishers like Axel Springer against internet companies like Google," says law professor Thomas Hoeren, director of the Institute for Information, Telecommunications and Media Law at the University of Münster. But: "Even smaller blogs, which create press reviews and display titles and teasers, for example, could be asked by the publishers to checkout."