* Critics say bill too vague to help publishers
* Search engine Google says will hurt consumers
BERLIN, March 1 German lawmakers approved a bill
on Friday that aims to protect publishers' copyright on the
Internet but critics branded it too weak for failing to make
search engines such as Google pay for displaying news snippets.
The bill, which follows years of debate, comes as the
newspaper industry in Germany, as elsewhere, struggles to find
new sources of revenue as readers and advertisers move online in
Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right coalition, which
faces an election in September, watered down its original plans
amid pressure from Internet lobbyists, lawyers and others who
argued that it undermined freedom of information.
Google launched an ad campaign in German newspapers
and set up a web information site called "Defend your web" to
lobby against the proposals, saying they would mean less
information for consumers and higher costs for companies.
The "ancillary copyright" bill now makes clear that search
engines can publish "individual words or small snippets of text
such as headlines" without incurring any costs.
They will have to pay for use of longer pieces of content,
though opposition parties said the wording of the bill was vague
and could lead to courts having to rule on individual cases.
The opposition parties could still block the bill in the
Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, where the government
has no majority.
"It is not at all clear who is now meant to be protected
from whom and why there is this law," said the opposition Greens
on their website on Friday, saying the bill served neither
cash-strapped publishers nor the free flow of information.
Google echoed such criticism.
"The law is neither necessary nor sensible. It hampers
innovation and hurts the economy and Internet users in Germany,"
said Kay Oberbeck, communications director at Google.
But the association of German newspaper publishers welcomed
the bill as "an important element in the creation of a fair
legal space in the digital world".
They have argued that search engines raise the vast majority
of their revenues from online advertising and that a substantial
part of these come directly or indirectly from the free access
to professional news or entertainment content produced by media.
The German draft bill states explicitly that it is not
intended to protect newspapers from the effects of ongoing
structural changes in the market.