Even if one disagrees that patent and copyright laws should be shelved (as some critics contend), no sensible person denies that these protections are subject to pretty ridiculous abuse. People have claimed extraordinarily ludicrous proprietary rights to everything from commonplace words (“spike”) to generic software functions (click to buy).
Now we have German publishers demanding payments from Google and other aggregators for the crime of pointing visitors to the publishers’ websites. Fair-use excerpts are unfair without compensation, according to the German Association of Newspaper Publishers and others. The idea seems to be, “You must pay us if you give our work free advertising.”
Suppose the demanded licensing rules were confined to commercial contexts. If applied consistently, the rules would jeopardize a wide range of hitherto uncontroversial citations, e.g., in book and movie reviews, not to mention books and movies. Making the demand even sillier is that Google enables sites to block any displaying of their content, or to reduce a search result for their site to a bare link with no snippet of text. No site is obliged to benefit from the horror of receiving Google-directed traffic.
Google is arguing its case publicly, and German business sentiment is hardly united in favor of mandatory licensing. According to Bernhard Rohleder, who heads an association of German technology companies, such legislation “would be unique worldwide [and would tell] investors: Innovative online services are not desired in Germany.”
Let’s hope sanity prevails. (Send me a nickel if you quote me on that.)
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.