Google is taking on the German government with a new “Defend Your Net” campaign that aims to fight attempts there to pass a law that would allow German newspaper publishers to charge fees to Google for providing links to newspaper stories.
In the new German language Google Website launched Nov. 27, the search giant is trying to build public sympathy against the government efforts by advising citizens there that such a proposal would cost them money to conduct news searches.
“For you it would be so much more difficult in the Internet to find the information that you seek,” the site said according to a translated version. “Defend your network, a single intervention against this world, mixing it for yourself and share this page with your friends!”
Stefan Tweraser, country director at Google Germany, told The Financial Times that his company is serious about its efforts to fight such proposed laws. “We ask every Internet user to advocate to defend the access to and the variety of information on the net and to protect search,” Tweraser told the paper. “We hope the German Bundestag will reject the bill.”
Google recently has been facing similar pressures from governments in France and Italy, where publishers are making demands to find revenue from Google searches conducted in their nations. Part of those efforts come from the huge difficulties and economic losses that newspaper publishers are often experiencing as more people get their news online rather than by buying printed newspapers nowadays. Newspapers around the world are struggling to find new ways of monetizing their newsgathering efforts, and going after some of Google’s massive advertising revenues is seen as a tantalizing target.
In Germany, the parliament will this week discuss the proposal that would “give publishers more say over how their articles are used on the Web,” according to The Financial Times. “Search engines would have to ask for publishers’ permission to display links and snippets and it is hoped newspapers will be able to extract a license fee in return.”
“Most people have never heard of this proposed legislation,” Tweraser told the paper. “But such a law would hit every Internet user in Germany” and would provide “less information for consumers and higher costs for companies.”
Similar efforts are under way in Italy and France, according to a story in The Economist. “In 2009 [newspaper publisher] Rupert Murdoch called Google and other search engines ‘content kleptomaniacs,'” reported the Economist. “Now cash-strapped newspapers want to put legal pressure on what they see as parasitical news aggregators.”
So while these efforts are happening today in Germany, France and Italy, could U.S. publishers make similar demands in the United States, where many newspapers are still struggling to find revenue as their print readership continues to decline?
Not necessarily, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for Poynter, a non-profit school for journalists in the United States. “The Google threat, if you will, about the ways that Google was adding to the problems of newspapers here reached a crescendo in 2009 when publishers were meeting on the West Coast” to discuss how to fix what ailed the industry, said Edmonds. “There was a lot of banging on a drum. Google kind of rode that out by saying that, ‘If you don’t want us to link to your content, tell us and we’ll stop.’ That was a reasonably good response.”
But then the newspaper publishers realized that at the same time, Google was driving online readers to their stories and content, “so there weren’t all that many people who wanted to give it up,” said Edmonds.
In the United States, the government has done some studies and found that there are serious concerns for the newspaper business here, but at the same time, Americans don’t appear to favor government subsidies to help the industry, he said. Besides, “the newspapers themselves don’t necessarily want that.”
Publishers in the United States haven’t made the same kinds of demands on the government that’s being seen in Germany, Italy and France, said Edmonds. “That whole thing has not really caught on in the U.S., plus Google has money for lawyers and lobbyists” to fight such efforts here.
The foreign governments that are perusing such options, though, are looking at it from an antitrust angle, said Edmonds. “Should they conclude that Google is monopolistic and driving other businesses up against the wall, it is a possibility there.”
Google Fights Foreign Attempts to Charge Fees for Newspaper Links
Rob Enderle, principle analyst with the Enderle Group, said Google has maintained for a very long time that all information on the Internet should be free, and that idea has garnered the company its share of enemies. “The people who own that content find that strategy somewhat disturbing,” said Enderle. “That’s where the breakdown occurs.”
So in other countries, where Google isn’t a domestic company, other governments are willing to be far more aggressive in taking Google on over this issue, he said. “Because Google is a U.S. entity and not a domestic entity in those countries, then the rules are perhaps more harshly enforced, particularly when it looks like they are stealing money from local businesses.”
Another part of the foreign attempts at taking Google on over the revenue issue is political grandstanding, said Enderle. “When you’ve got an overseas corporation at war with domestic politicians, there’s really no downside for the politicians to take the overseas company to task. They look like heroes.”
For Google, these battles abroad are likely going to get worse before they get better, said Enderle. “They’re acting like Microsoft did in the past, where they think they are above others.”
Such potential actions are less likely here in the United States because Google is a huge American company that pays taxes here and has clout, said Enderle.
Interestingly, the German Website appeal is the second time this week that Google is taking on foreign governments in the public arena.
On Nov. 26, Google announced a program to take its fight for Internet freedom to the public around the world as leaders of many nations prepare to meet to discuss how the Internet should be regulated in the years to come.
“Starting Dec. 3, the world’s governments meet behind closed doors to discuss the future of the Internet,” wrote Google in a post on Google+. “This meeting of the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, will take place in Dubai. Some governments want to use this meeting in Dubai to increase censorship and regulate the Internet.”
For Google, the consequences of any tightening of Internet use or increases in regulations could have a direct and marked effect on the search giant’s operations, revenue and independence, so it’s apparently taking no chances of being blind-sided.
The ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) runs through Dec. 14. The conference will review the current International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs), which serve as the binding global treaty designed to facilitate international interconnection and interoperability of information and communication services, including the Internet. The last time the ITRs were negotiated was in 1988, way before today’s modern Internet. “There is broad consensus that the text now needs to be updated to reflect the dramatically different information and communication technology (ICT) landscape of the 21st century,” the group said on the ITU Website.
To make its own case known about the importance of Internet freedom and openness, Google created a Website where individuals can learn about steps they can take to ensure that the Internet doesn’t restrict their own activities due to government actions. “Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future,” wrote Google. “The billions of people around the globe who use the Internet should have a voice.”