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  • Seymour Gris: Google vs. Germany


Seymour Gris: Google vs. Germany

Google's campaign against the German government's Leistungsschutzgesetz has begun. The what? And is Google really a victim in this case? And with people like Kim Dotcom reemerging, internet giants are looking less and less chivalrous.

The other day I noticed that a friend in New York who doesn’t even understand German was “sharing” Google’s campaign against the German government’s Leistungsschutzgesetz. The what?

Under this proposed law German press publishers will receive micropayments for headlines and text snippets lifted from their websites and published on the Google News page and in its search results. All other search engines will also be charged as well, but because of Google’s near monopoly, it’s been dubbed the “Google tax”.

Unsurprisingly, the company doesn’t want to pay money to anyone for “content” and so it’s waging a propaganda war (“Defend your internet”) against the government. An emotional video with a soundtrack of sweeping pianos and violins suggests that if the politicians get their way we won’t be able to find out how to “donate money to tsunami victims”. Kids won’t be able to misspell “where does Knut the polar bear live” in the Google search box and still get the correct answer.

Read on and we discover that the law will endanger freedom of speech, harm innovative media and put small publishers (like Exberliner) at a disadvantage. Nowhere are these simplistic talking points explained. It’s just supposed to stoke populist fear of government control. But why should we trust Google – one of the world’s most powerful media conglomerates – any more or less than the government? These are people who dream of making Google brain implants, for christsake.

For Google, like any other multi-billion megacorp, this is about money and nothing else. For it, internet freedom means placing ads next to free content. End of story. Framing this as a choice between freedom and Orwellian control is just false and hypocritical. About as hypocritical as the “Anonymous” masks I saw on sale at Saturn the other day.

The idea behind the Leistungsschutzgesetz makes some sense: those preview snippets displayed by Google add a lot of value to Google’s site. It is in fact possible to get a pretty good overview of the news without ever leaving Google – by reading the writing of journalists whose salaries or fees were paid by a publisher. The German government – obviously spurned on by the German press lobby – decided that journalism and the companies that pay for it deserve some support.  I think Google and freedom of speech will be able to survive that.

Meanwhile the internet’s most famous German, the tax-evading, copyright-infringing, money-laundering, insider-trading robber baron Kim Dotcom fired another shot in the war on the “content mafia” – those unbearable companies that produce or publish films, books and music and expect to be paid for them – with a tasteless video featuring Anonymous protesters – promoting his new New Zealand-based data-encrypting, file-sharing service Mega.  This is a guy who keeps dozens of cars including a Rolls Royce at his mansion paid for by pirate booty: a classic 1 percent kind of fella. Robin Hood he ain’t – he’s as bad as the worse Wall Street bankster, if you ask me.

Google isn’t much better – they’re just more respectable than Kim Dotcom – and they give us lots of free tools to play with. Nonetheless, the “don’t be evil”, rainbow-striped monopolist is making a mint off of other people’s work. It’s time for them pay up.