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Google Wins Partial Victory in German Copyright Battle

The German parliament waters down new legislation, allowing news aggregators to publish small excerpts of print articles.

COLOGNE, Germany - Google has won a partial victory in its copyright battle with the German government and local publishers. Germany's parliament on Friday passed a watered-down version of a new copyright law which, while strengthening online rights for newspapers and magazines, will still allow news aggregators to publish small excepts of print articles free of charge.

The controversial new legislation introduces the concept of "ancillary copyright" to German law -- essentially giving print publishers the right to license their web content for use by others. But legislators made a crucial last-minute change to the law, allowing news aggregators such as Google to continue to show "single words or small text excerpts" of online articles from newspaper and magazine websites without having to pay or ask permission from the rights holders.

German print giants such as Axel Springer and Gruner + Jahr had pushed for a complete ban on such use by news aggregators. But the German newspaper and magazine publishing associations said they were happy with the version of the law that passed, saying it would give them control over how their content was monetized on the web.

Google had spent months lobbying the German government and ordinary users, orchestrating a "protect the web" campaign in which the search giant portrayed itself as the defender of free speech online.

While Google welcomed the changes to the law, the company warned that the legislation could still threaten innovation online.

German lawmakers had hoped the new law would act as a model for other European countries, many of which are also grappling with online copyright issues. Italy, Switzerland and Portugal have discussed similar legislation, but talks have not progressed. In France and Belgium, Google signed cooperation deals with print publishers to boost their web advertising sales, staving off new copyright laws there. Google also set up a $79 million (€60 million) fund to help local publishers ramp up their online activities. German publishers had rejected a similar deal.

The new German law still has to pass the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which is controlled by the opposition Social Democrat and Green parties. They could put the controversial legislation on hold until after the German general election in September.