Google will soon abbreviate publishing content of the houses represented by VG Media. The collecting society sees a legal violation.
The announcement by the U.S. company represents a new state of affairs "which must be urgently examined by the Federal Cartel Office," VG Media announced. Image: dpa
Google’s planned cutback in the display of certain publishing content in its search results "clearly violates antitrust law," according to the collecting society VG Media. The Google plan affects publishers who have licensing claims under the ancillary copyright via VG Media.
In the future, the Internet group wants to display content from these publishers only with headlines. Further text outlines (snippets) and preview images (thumbnails) are to be omitted. "As a market dominator, Google treats similar companies differently without any objectively justifiable reason," explained VG Media. By putting them in a worse position, Google wants to force press publishers to use their content free of charge, it said. "For VG Media, this announcement by Google represents a new state of affairs that must be urgently examined by the Federal Cartel Office."
A Google spokesman said Thursday that with the abbreviated presentation, the company was only responding to a complaint filed by some publishers and VG Media. Incidentally, the Federal Cartel Office had already rejected a complaint on the matter, he added. "The office also stated in its letter that we cannot be forced to purchase publisher content."
The abbreviated presentation of individual publishers’ content will be implemented on October 23. The collecting society VG Media referred on Thursday to an appearance by the president of the Federal Cartel Office, Andreas Mundt, at the Munich Media Days next Wednesday (22.10). Mundt will answer questions on the topic from journalists Hans Werner Kilz and Hans-Peter Siebenhaar.
VG Media represents 160 publisher websites in Germany, including offerings from Axel Springer, Burda, Funke, Madsack and M. DuMont Schauberg. Popular sites such as spiegel.de, faz.net, sueddeutsche.de and handelsblatt.com are not affected, as they have not taken action against the existing snippets on Google News and in Google Search. Sites such as focus.de and huffingtonpost.de are also among the web offerings that tolerate Google’s action and continue to appear on Google pages to the usual extent.
Federal government considers "expansion of antitrust law"
The German government wants to take action against a possible abuse of market power by Internet groups such as Google and Amazon, if necessary by making changes to antitrust law. Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) contradicted on Thursday in the Bundestag the portrayal that he himself had called for Google to be broken up. "This is false." He said, however, that he was examining "a regulation of Internet platforms similar to antitrust law."
The minister added: "We are also talking about the question of extending antitrust law." In a response to a parliamentary question from the Green Party, which was available to Reuters, Economics State Secretary Uwe Beckmeyer described the government’s position. In order to take action against the abuse of a dominant market power, unbundling as a sanction is already possible under current German and European law if there are no other effective means, he made clear. In principle, it is "imperative that effective merger control and effective protection against abuse of market power are ensured at national and European level in the dynamically developing Internet markets."
If problems persist "that are to be considered unacceptable, the German government will decide on the need to modify antitrust instruments." However, he said, the government is of the opinion that current antitrust law is currently sufficient. The existing instruments would also have to be enforced against globally active companies.
According to Beckmeyer, it has not yet been conclusively determined whether individual companies dominate the markets of the Internet economy. Antitrust proceedings by the European Commission against the search engine group Google are still ongoing. Alexander Dobrindt, the minister responsible for digital infrastructure, complained in the Bundestag that there was no German company among the globalized corporations. He said that the German economy must be led to a top international position here.
"Germany has a chance to achieve a digital economic miracle," the CSU politician said. Digital competition must be revitalized, he said, and Germany must become a performance center in the process. Digital location factors are crucial for growth and prosperity in the future.