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German lawmakers have approved a new copyright law. Under it, websites and search engines would pay to repost intellectual property. Google says the law would be harmful to Internet users.
Members of Germany's lower house, the Bundestag, voted in favor of the copyright law 293 to 243 on Friday. Three parliamentarians abstained. The new legislation must now go to the Bundesrat for debate and then a vote.
If enacted, the law would require Internet search engines to acquire a licence in order to republish original content. Websites which post collections of articles from different sources would also be affected by the law.
The Bundestag's deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Günter Krings, said supporters of the bill sought to update the current copyright law, which made sense before the age of the Internet. But now, he said authors and publishers are unprotected from unhindered distribution of their intellectual property.
"This wasn't necessary when papers used to appear only in print form," said Krings.
Krings also pointed to financial losses for the publications.
"We want the peformance and effort to pay off, including in the areas of journalism and publishing," he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU fraction and its coalition partner the FDP have generally supported the introduction of such a legislation, while the opposition Social Democrats, Greens and the Left Party have broadly opposed it.
Late last year, the German Federation of Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) backed the bill, saying it was "self-evident that someone who uses content commercially should also pay for it." Trade unions representing journalists in Germany, meanwhile, have demanded that their members get a fair share of earnings from the proposed content licenses.
What's in a snippet?
Opponents of the efforts to change the current copyright law focused their criticism primarily on the language of the draft bill.
"Individual words or short excerpts" - so-called "snippets" - that appear in search engine results would not require approval from the author or publisher. However, the length of one such snippet is not defined in the bill.
The chairman of the Social Democrats in the Bundestag, Thomas Oppermann, called the oversight a potential "work-creation program for lawyers."
The larger question remained how Internet giant Google would be affected if the law were enacted. Google intends to provide search results in an approved form by the owner in the future, company spokesperson Kay Oberdeck told the news agency dpa, but was still disappointed with the outcome of Friday's vote.
"The law is neither necessary nor sensible. It hinders innovation and harms business and Internet users in Germany," Google spokeswoman Kay Oberdeck said.
Professors associated with the immaterial goods faculty of Germany's Max Planck Institute have already warned that the change could pose "unforeseeable negative consequences."
"Without content the search engines would find nothing - and without search engines nothing would be found amongst the indeterminable mass of information on the Internet," the 16 professors said in a statement timed to coincide with an earlier debate on the bill in parliament.
kms/msh (Reuters, epd, dpa)