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Tech industry sharply criticizes German online copyright bill

The proposed law is bad for business and will probably lead to years of litigation, the companies said

By Loek Essers, IDG News Service
January 30, 2013 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - As German government officials prepared to meet to discuss a controversial online copyright bill on Wednesday, Yahoo, Facebook and German online startups slammed the proposal that would allow publishers to charge search engines such as Google for reproducing short snippets from news articles.

[ALSO: The fierce battle over intellectual property]

Search engines often republish parts of news articles without the publishers' consent, and without sharing revenue. The proposed law would grant news publishers the exclusive right to publish and commercialize their online products. The intent is to protect the publishers against systematic access by search engine providers and similar services, the German Cabinet said.

Opposition to the new copyright bill has chiefly come from Google until now, but despite those efforts it is still en route to becoming law. As a next step in the process, a German parliamentary committee was set to hear nine experts on Wednesday who were invited to express their views on the matter. While the list of invitees includes lawyers, professors and people representing the publishing industry, it lacks industry players like Google, Facebook or other tech companies.

The German tech industry however, is still chiming in, trying to influence the debate by publishing their own or commissioned opinions on the matter.

The proposed bill is "immature and superfluous," especially from the perspective of social media providers, wrote Thomas Hoeren, professor at the Institute for Information, Telecommunication and Media Law (ITM) in MA1/4nster. He published an opinion on the matter ahead of the debate that was commissioned by Facebook, but independently crafted, he said.

While the bill specifies rules for search engines, it doesn't do that for social media providers like Facebook and Twitter, said Hoeren. The absence of specific regulations for social media means that individual cases would have to be referred to the courts, and that will probably lead to years of litigation between social media providers and publishers, Hoeren said.

Yahoo Germany also opposes the bill. The company is both a search engine provider and also a publisher employing more than 30 journalists, wrote Heiko Genzlinger, managing director of Yahoo Germany. Because the bill puts the company in a position in which it might be protected as a publisher while at the same time being exposed to possible litigation, Yahoo is "explicitly against" the proposal, which "harms the market more than it does good," Genzlinger wrote.

The proposed law also has the potential to hit small local search engines like the Germany-based Yahoo search especially hard, he said. "Specialized attorneys will use the proposed intellectual property right as a new business model," he said, adding that the German search engines are likely to be an easier target than U.S.-based providers like Bing and Google. Local search engines are likely to get hit first with cease-and-desist requests, probably followed by claims for legal fees and licensing demands, he said.

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