Google wins legal battle with German publishers over fee demands

BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) - Google won a legal battle on Thursday after Europe’s top court said publishers in Germany could not demand copyright fees since 2013 from the tech firm because the European Commission had not been notified of the German regulation.

FILE PHOTO: Small toy figures are seen in front of Google logo in this illustration picture, April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The group of publishers previously said they were demanding as much as 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) from Google-owner Alphabet in copyright fees for their news snippets and other items published by the U.S. company on the Web.

The German case underlines the battle waged by publishers seeking a share of revenues earned from the distribution of news on Alphabet services such as Google News and YouTube.

The European Union toughened its copyright rules in April, forcing Google to pay publishers for news snippets and Facebook to filter out protected content. The bloc’s 28 members must implement those regulations in the next two years.

The German case arose after VG Media, a consortium of about 200 publishers, took Google to a German court for using text excerpts, images and videos produced by its members without paying them.

The lawsuit was based on a German ancillary copyright law in force since August 2013.

The German court sought guidance from Europe’s highest court, the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ), which ruled that the EU executive had not been notified of the German technical regulation.

“A German provision prohibiting internet search engines from using newspaper or magazine snippets without the publisher’s authorization must be disregarded in the absence of its prior notification to the Commission,” ECJ judges said.

Commenting on the ruling, Google said in a statement: “We are pleased that this has now been clarified.”

Google previously said the majority of German publishers had allowed it to preview content without payment and said they had benefited from free user traffic steered to their sites.

VG Media urged the German government to implement the new EU copyright rules immediately.

“This new European Press Publisher’s Right favors the press publishers by conferring wider and (more) robust rights than the 2013 German law,” its CEO Markus Runde said in a statement.

Germany’s Justice Ministry said it would examine the ECJ ruling and present a draft law to implement the new European rules.

The case is C-299/17: VG Media Gesellschaft zur Verwertung der Urheber- und Leistungsschutzrechte von Medienunternehmen mbH v Google LLC.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Klaus Laeur and Riham Alkousaa in Berlin; Editing by Edmund Blair