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A short note on Google AMP and the German copyright law

AMP will intensify the tensions between German publishers and Google

In Germany, large media corporations and online publishers have been lobbying for a copyright law that would force Google to pay for showing snippets of news articles in their Search & News products. The publishers argued that Google appropriates and monetizes their content without paying royalties. Google argued they are just setting up links with a citation that bring traffic to the publishers.

In 2013 the German federal parliament passed a law called “Ancillary Copyright for Press Publishers” (“Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger”). But it didn’t fully meet the demands of the publishers. The law allows the use of “smallest text excerpts” without royalties but it’s vague in its definition. Most experts agree that the law doesn’t provide legal certainty neither for Google nor the publishers. It’s a political present to publishers but makes the whole situation less clear.

After the law passed, Google threatened to remove large news sites from search results completely if they demand license fees. Consequently, some publishers granted Google the right to show their snippets without charge. There is an ongoing lawsuit between Google and publishers about the impact of the new law and whether it’s compatible with European Union law. Publishers wanted 6% of Google’s sales as license fees, Google obviously doesn’t want to pay anything.

So I’m wondering how Google AMP fits in here. It’s no longer about publishing snippets, citations and links. With the AMP cache, Google is re-hosting the full content of the publisher. AMP embeds the full content into the search results, showing them inline. Nonetheless, AMP seems to become popular among German publishers. Several German news sites started to publish AMP versions of their articles, and these pages appear prominently in the Google search results.

In my opinion, it is difficult to argue that Google appropriates content by just showing news headlines and text snippets. Of course, Google builds Search and News solely on third-party content, and makes a lot of money this way. But citing and referencing is so essential to the web and publishing in general that it’s hard to introduce a “Google tax” that would benefit media corporations.

With AMP, Google puts even more pressure on publishers to cede control to Google. One can read the news without ever leaving google.com. It’s indisputable that Google re-publishes third-party content fully and in verbatim without paying for it. While good old meta tags and robots.txt offered a way to opt-out of search indexing and snippet display, AMP is an opt-in solution. Publishing AMP pages is an explicit consent to Google’s controversial embedding and re-hosting policy.

Publishers might see AMP as a new attempt to subdue them. I guess that Google is making an offer that publishers cannot afford to refuse. AMP content is consumed without leaving the Google universe, but AMP pages may contain certain ads. The advertisement revenue goes to the publishers. Is that a fair deal?

Even if some publishers cave in and jump on the AMP bandwagon, the heated discussion of the German “Leistungsschutzrecht” and whether Google should pay royalties for showing content will flare up again.

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