News publishers from Germany have banded together to sue Google for being included in the search engine’s news listings, rather than simply opting out of list inclusion. The publishers are asking for an eleven percent cut of Google’s revenue in return for inclusion.
The suit demands up to 11% (plus VAT) of gross worldwide sales revenue related to listings and descriptions of content created by the German news publishers. There are twelve companies involved in the suit, including Axel Springer, one of Germany’s biggest media giants. The suit relates to a new copyright law that German lawmakers created last year, called Leistungsschutzercht, or “ancillary copyright”. This law allows search engines to use very small excerpts of text free, but the VG Media Group (who is filing the suit) feels that the use that Google is making of news postings is extensive enough for payment to be demanded.
How Much Is An Excerpt Worth?
The suit poses several challenges both for Google and the judges. Firstly, Google News does not actually carry any ads, so it is difficult to determine the worth of a news posting. However, Google News content does appear elsewhere in the Google ecosystem – such as on regular search pages, and ads do appear there.
Publishers want to know when their content appears on pages with ads, and how much revenue is produced from those ads. It is possible for Google to calculate this, since it already tells publishers how visible their pages are in the SERPs. However, it would be a lot of work for Google to track ad display and clicks. Plus, there are between 10 and 30 links on any given search page. How can Google tell which of the links on the page should be given credit for the click?
Publishers Can Opt Out
In Google’s defence, publishers are not forced to have a presence in Google News. In 2006, Belgian news publishers took Google to court and demanded that they be removed from the news listings. Google provided publishers with a way to opt out, and also dropped all Belgian news publishers. Interestingly enough, many of the publishers decided to re-submit themselves to Google News after being removed, because their traffic fell dramatically. They then made use of the opt-out options to prevent page caching, which was the primary thing that they had an issue with when they filed the suit. Over the last few years the number of options provided by the opt-out feature has become quite impressive, and publishers have fine control over how their sites are presented.
German news publishers could use the same opt-out features that the Belgian publishers have been taking advantage of, but they are choosing not to. From Google’s point of view, it appears that the publishers not only want free traffic from Google, they want Google to pay them for sending that traffic. That sort of deal would be a dream for any SEO Company in London. Whether the courts will see it that way remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to watch the case as it plays out.