It involves the Internet, the major publishers in the country and politicians.
Major German publishers with Axel Springer AG as the leader of the gang have for years demanded a law that would force all commercial web services such as search engines or aggregators like the German-Techmeme equivalent Rivva to pay a license fee for automatically processing and displaying headlines or snippets.
It would be a highly obsolete, Internet-hostile law that nobody benefits from – not even the publishers – because apart from Google, none of the smaller startups and aggregators would be able to pay the fee, hence they’d have to close down or move abroad. But the law would create huge uncertainty among everybody who is publishing content on the web and who refers to the publishers’ content, even if its only in 140 characters. It would increase bureaucracy and kill innovation. It’s an evil law which only can be created by people who are incapable of looking forward.
Unfortunately, most German politicians are blindly following the publishers’ lobbyists, which is why the law proposal, called “Leistungsschutzrecht” (hashtag #lsr), is currently being discussed in the German Parliament. A decision won’t made before early 2013, but it’s hard to say how the outcome will be.
But that’s not the scary part of the whole story. Or yes, it is, but there is an even scarier one:
Because usually, when politicians try to create an obviously harmful law, the media as the fourth power in a democracy would make sure that the public is informed about what’s going on, creating pressure so that the politicians are forced to modify the law proposal or to cancel it.
But this is not happening. Since it’s the publishers who want that law, they do everything they can to NOT make the law makers realize how stupid that kind of law would be. Instead, they use their own reach to pump out articles defending the law on an almost daily basis. It’s lobbying at its worst under the disguise of objective journalism. Not to speak about the lobbying which likely takes place behind closed curtains. They accuse Google, which is the biggest company that opposes the law (for obvious reasons) of stealing their content (yeah, presenting a headline and the first two sentences of an article with the purpose of sending free traffic is stealing, right. And then there is the robots.txt of course…), compare it to the Taliban and claim that journalists writing for their newspapers have equally highlighted the pros and cons of the law. It’s a blatant lie. It’s just not true and it’s shocking to see formerly respected people lying openly like that, without any shame.
Google answered to the whole drama with a huge campaign with ads in major German newspapers (oh the irony) and a link on google.de encouraging people to “defend their Internet”. The publishers and some political leaders reacted with outrage, condemning this “unparalleled lobbyism”. Them accusing others of lobbyism! Yeah, it doesn’t even sound like reality, but it is. A sad reality.
So the scary thing is that in a situation when the public really needs and independent mainstream media, there is none, because the mainstream media wants the law.
It actually makes you feel pretty helpless and frustrated to see how far the publishers are willing to go to push through a law that they won’t really win anything with, but which creates collateral damage for all. It’s not a good feeling and it only emphasizes that old media is hard to take seriously these days. Never mind how important they say they are for democracy.