German publishers want a cut of Microsoft, Google and Yahoo’s search revenue

googlesignProviding links to content from German publishers could become costly for Microsoft, Google and Yahoo. VG Media, a collection agency for rights holders, has filed a civil suit against Google, requesting a cut of Google’s revenue for quoting and linking to content produced by German publishers.

Right now, the case is in front of an arbitration board, but if that process fails (which it almost certainly will) it will be sent on to a full-blown court case. The news, first reported in English by Jeff Jarvis, is another complication for search engine providers operating in Europe.

In a press release, VG Media said that it expects payments from any company that it considers to infringe on the “ancillary copyright” of its members. That would seem to include other search providers, including Bing and Yahoo.

If VG Media is successful in its quest, that could have serious consequences for Bing, Google and other search engines. Having to pay a cut of its search revenue to third parties would be a drain on Google’s cash flow, especially if the same doctrine used in Germany expanded to other countries.

The move is a part of a long trend of European countries and industries disagreeing with how Google and other search engines do business. There are a number of German properties that are completely blurred out on Google Street View because of the “Verpixelungsrecht” – the ‘right to be pixellated’ – that allows people to remove their homes or businesses from the watchful eye of Google’s mapping cars.

Earlier this year, Google reached an antitrust settlement with the European Union over its advertising practices, which will require the company to offer alternate links alongside its own ads in a complicated system that has drawn the ire of its critics. More recently, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that european users have a right to request that Google de-list links about them.

While it seems unlikely that VG Media will prevail in this case, stranger things certainly have happened when U.S. tech companies find themselves in European courts.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this piece.

  • Greg Bulmash

    I’d love to see Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google do a one day EU blackout to protest the stupid ways the EU is regulating them. If EU labor unions can coordinate general strikes intended to slow or halt everyday business, why not these big three? Shut down free web mail (receive and store, but do not provide web, POP, or IMAP access to EU IP addresses), search, and other free tools. Redirect users to a protest page.

    Imagine the chaos. But if it’s legal for Frenchmen to block off the streets of Paris as protest, why shouldn’t it be legal for these businesses to lock out EU customers in protest?

    And yes, I understand the reasons these companies wouldn’t want to do that (i.e. don’t remind customers how fragile their digital identities are and how easily they can be cut off from them, don’t give those customers a reason to switch to a smaller competitor, etc.). Still, the panic when millions of Europeans were cut off from their webmail would be a thing to see.

    • Guest

      I think such a blackout would force Europeans to use a search engine built by the EU, in the EU, for the EU. Such as …

      … there’s …

      … nope. Can’t think of an example.

  • mon_go

    I think Goog, FB, etc. should pay me a percentage of the advertising revenue they derive from the use of my eyeballs.