Google challenges German “link tax”

Google is urging German users to fight a proposed change to the company’s federal copyright law. Officials say the change is designed to protect newspapers but Google argues it could undermine the entire concept of search.

According to the Financial Times, the proposal means that a search engine would have to get permission before including a “snippet” of a news story when linking to it, with the original publisher having the right to demand a license fee to give this permission.

Google would obviously be unhappy with this idea because of its effects on Google News. However, it says the changes go too far and would have much more serious effects. It argues that as the proposal stands, it could affect all forms of websites, not just news articles.

It gives the example of public officials whose contact details appear on their website theoretically being able to block a search engine from picking out the relevant information to appear in a snippet on the results page.

The bill will be debated for the first time by Germany’s parliament tomorrow. Government officials in both France and Italy are said to have shown an interest in adopting the same principles into their domestic laws.

Google has now launched a petition, stating (though its own translation software from the original German) that “For you it would be so much more difficult in the Internet to find the information that you seek.” It notes publishers already have the right to block their pages from being indexed by Google and points out that it doesn’t make any ad revenue from Google News.