According to a press release, the Berlin Regional Court recently issued a ruling in a suit brought by 41 press publishers against Google. The court held that Google is allowed to show snippets (short text excerpts of press publishers' content) in its Google search results and that this act did not require Google to pay royalties. Although the court’s full reasoning is not yet known because the written ruling has not been issued, the following is clear:
The press publishers relied on the intellectual property right for press publishers introduced in August 2013 which protects short excerpts as long as they are not only single words or minimal excerpts. Back in 2013, the IP right was the subject of controversial debate.
The judges in Berlin decided the case exclusively on the basis of antitrust law, asking two relevant questions:
- Is Google a market-dominating company within the meaning of antitrust law?
- If so, is Google abusing its dominant market position when demanding free of charge use of snippets?
In answering the first question, the court addressed the definition of the relevant market and indicated that there is probably a separate product market for search engine providers (howev-er, the court ultimately left this question open) and concluded that "without any doubt" Google has a dominant position on an assumed market for search engine providers.
With regard to the second question, the court was not able to identify an abuse of market power in Google’s demand for the use of snippets for free. Google had neither treated the 41 press publishers less favourably than other publishers without justification, nor committed abusive pricing.
Rather, the court found that the model of search engines entails a "win-win situation" for all; Google benefits from the advertising revenues, the users benefit from the assistance with their search for specific information and the press publishers benefit from increased traffic resulting in higher advertising revenues. Requiring Google to pay royalties for using snippets would upset the balanced system.
The Berlin Regional Court’s judgment is not yet final and open to appeal.