Google "wins" Springer news tussle by complying with the law

In a somewhat amusing turn of events, Google has just emerged victorious in what could have been a major battle over licensing fees with Axel Springer, Germany's biggest news publisher. Axel Springer reinstated the tech company's ability to publish both headlines and snippets of news, citing plummeting Internet traffic after it revoked those rights for a two week experiment. The almost ironic thing is that Google practically "won" this issue not by fighting for it in court or in media but by actually complying with the new German law.

Google's use of news snippets in search results and its Google News service has long been a point of contention for publishers both in the US and especially in Europe. Germany, France, and Spain have passed copyright laws that would require search engines like Google to pay licensing fees for use of such pieces of text, pretty much like what normally happens when physical media is involved. Putting that law into use, a consortium of publishers, which included Springer, prohibited Google from running snippets and limiting it to using only headlines. Google complied.

Now two weeks later, Springer is somewhat conceding defeat. It has reinstated the previous status quo with Google. Why? because Internet traffic coming from Google search results nosedived to 40 percent in that period, while clicks coming from Google News almost plummeted to its death by as much as 80 percent. Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner said it would be akin to shooting themselves on the foot if they persisted in their demands.

"Somewhat conceded" is perhaps the best way to describe Springer's reversal. On one hand, they acknowledge Google's role in driving traffic to their site. But in the same breath, it also points out the overwhelming power that Google has over the matter. Though backed by the law, news sites would be on the losing end if Google actually decides to comply with their demands, effectively snubbing them out of its search results and depriving them of much needed clicks. Springer is now calling upon lawmakers to keep Google's power in check. But in the meantime, it is going to continue to bask in the traffic that Google is generating for them.

SOURCE: Reuters