German news publishers file complaint against Google

It was only last week that Germany’s justice minister suggested Google is becoming “a giant monopoly, similar to Microsoft”. Her comments have now paved the way for a trio of complaints to the country’s Federal Cartel Office, Zeit and Deutsche Welle reports.

The Federation of Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) and Association of German Magazine Publishers (VDZ) have complained about Google’s use of news article “snippets” in its search results without payment.

At the same time, price comparison and consumer reviews site Ciao is using a complaint to attempt to undo parts of a contract under which Ciao displays Google AdSense ads. Eleven-year-old Ciao was in 2005 bought by online market research surveys firm Greenfield, which was in 2008 acquired by Microsoft, which itself is trying to build a web ads operation to rival Google’s.

The unlikeliest of complaints comes from Euro-Cities, an online mapping company that says allowing third-party sites to embed Google Maps for free effectively kills off its own paid services.

Those last two complaints give the issue extra weight – but they are over individual or contractual issues. Yet the tag-teamed complaint from publishers is more notable.

This is effectively the same kind of case that Belgian newspapers, through their Copiepresse group, won against Google in 2007, forcing it to remove their articles from Google News (it was still seeking €49 million in damages at last sight). They later unsuccessfully sued the European Commission itself to have it remove the same articles from the bloc-wide NewsExplorer site.

Publishers’ copyright calls have grown wider across the continent, as newspaper revenue has declined since then. But it’s to Germany where the real centre gravity has shifted. Some 169 publishing execs last summer signed what they called the Hamburg Declaration on Intellectual Property Rights – effectively a lobbying attempt on Europe’s then-media commissioner that complained: “Numerous providers are using the work of authors, publishers and broadcasters without paying for it.”

Of the signatories, 149 were German (others included Dow Jones, News Corp FT Group and DMGT); after Hamburg’s failure, this Federal Cartel Office complaint is their latest attempt.

Axel Springer, publisher of Europe’s most-read newspaper, Bild, has been right behind Murdoch’s recent philosophical musings. It wants publishers to work together to create a new search-based content economy where readers pay to read text and watch video clips.  And it is planning its own paywall tilt, starting with iPhone apps launched last month.

This also happens against the backdrop of France’s continuing protestations that Google might digitise French-language books under its nose without permission (ie that access French cultural works in the online age would would no longer be managed within France).