Can Germany limit search engine aggregation? Not likely, but interesting.

A new German bill would create a new type of copyright to protect news articles, thus creating a price for search engines to share articles, summarizes the Columbia Journalism Review.

The copyright would essentially work as a legal tool to help content owners enforce licencing agreements between themselves and search engines. The search engines would be required to pay for the right to aggregate content onto their search listings.

According to the Review, the bill’s introduction is favored by publishers who “have seen revenues dwindle as aggregator profits soar.” The bill seems to have been introduced as a simple fix to protect revenue streams (a cause worthy of a long term solution).

However successful the publishers have been in lobbying for the introduction of such a bill, they are likely to be unsuccessful in finding its passage. Germany has some of the most modern intellectual property laws in the whole of Europe, and legislators are unlikely to agree with the use of copyrights to limit the flow of online commerce.

Any new intellectual property decisions would spark the ire and  review not only from the EPO (European Patent Office) but also of WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization, run in conjunction with the United Nations). The German Patent Office is likely unwilling to create such a controversy given other priorities, one of which includes creating standards for how patents are evaluated and honored around the world (patent harmonization and the Patent Cooperation Treaty; see more here).

Germany has one of the largest patent offices in the world, and in 2011, patent applicants from residents (think: German companies and inventors) accounted  for than three-quarters of total applications. Any German law would likely have a substantial impact on the choices of other countries with high resident-oriented applications, such as the US and China.

Further, if the bill succeeds in being passed into law, the fees for aggregation will likely end up  determined by the courts. One possible result of the bill’s passage would be a court decision that determines the value of aggregation — such a decision would have a ripple affect across all publishers worldwide.

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