Google Says Proposed German Law Restricts Users Searches

Google Inc. said a proposal in Germany’s parliament to extend copyright law would make finding information online more difficult and has implications for its business operations in Europe.

While existing law prevents copying of articles, the new proposals, sought by German news publishers, “would place restrictions on even a ‘snippet’ of an article,” such as is commonly found in search results, said Simon Hampton, Google’s director of public policy in Europe, in a post.

The company, based in Mountain View, California, is starting an information campaign “to give the facts about the proposed law” and invite debate, Hampton said. Germany’s parliament begins debating the proposal this week, he said.

Google, owner of the world’s largest search engine, is stepping up efforts to inform public opinion on policies that affect Web companies, including rivals Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft Corp. The proposed law in Germany would force search engines, news aggregators and others to contract with publishers in order to show the snippets of information available, Hampton said.

“We want to build win-win ways to partner with publishers,” Hampton said in the post. “What we want to avoid is a system that puts the brakes on the open Internet, limits choice for people looking for information, and dramatically raises the cost of online innovation.”

‘Complete Reversal’

The bill by Germany’s Justice Ministry proposes giving publishers one year during which they have the sole rights to commercially use their journalistic content. It pits website operators such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo against German publishers including Axel Springer AG and Bertelsmann AG, which are trying to find ways to monetize content online.

The extended law would be a “complete reversal of the legal situation today” and a reversal of current Web practices, Hampton said. It also has implications for Google’s business in Europe, Hampton said.

Users clicking through to publishers’ websites from Google’s search and news pages is “significant” for the company because there is no advertising on the Google News service in Europe, Hampton said. The company’s “opportunity to make money is when users click on a link” and go to a media site, he said.

Google’s web crawler currently allows publishers to decide whether their information can be used and “a further set of highly refined controls is also available,” Hampton said.

The company’s shares rose 1.5 percent to $670.71 at the close in New York yesterday. The stock has risen 3.8 percent this year.

-- Editors: Ben Livesey, Stephen West