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German bill may force Google to pay for news snippets

Deutsche Welle
Germany’s governing coalition has agreed to back new legislation that would force aggregators like Google to pay for using small citations. The unprecedented move has sparked an outcry among many Internet users.

After more than three years of intensive lobbying, German news organizations appear to have convinced enough politicians in Berlin of the need for a law to protect the use of their content on the Internet and for a compulsory licensing scheme to use it. A bill is set to be put to a vote in the coming weeks.

The German plan follows a move last year in neighboring Belgium where courts decided that Google was infringing on newspapers’ copyrights by linking to stories.

But the political coalition’s new proposal goes further, observers say, and is causing heated debate in Germany.
“For now, we are relying on the intelligence of the German parliament not to implement such nonsense,” wrote Markus Beckedahl, the editor of, in a blog post written on Sunday…
(6 March 2012)

Publishers be damned!

Stephen Foley, The Independent
Timothy Gowers makes a habit of bringing bright people together to solve big problems. The Cambridge University professor is one of Britain’s leading mathematicians – recipient of the subject’s biggest prize, the Fields Medal – and founder of the Polymath Project, where researchers from around the world collaborate online to work on the toughest unanswered questions in maths.

Right now, though, he is bringing people together for a different reason, to humble one of the UK’s most powerful corporations – and ultimately unlock the vast trove of human knowledge currently hidden behind academic publishers’ paywalls.

Professor Gowers has gathered a small army of the world’s top researchers to boycott Reed Elsevier, the world’s biggest publisher of academic journals, and investors had better take note.

The Elsevier publishing division brought in £2.1bn in revenue last year, and £768m in profit, by charging fat fees for access to cutting-edge research. If the mild-mannered mathematician gets his way, those are numbers the company won’t see again.

In fact, if he gets his way, the economics of academic publishing could be turned on its head…
(6 March 2012)

The Defence of the Book: a story by Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes, The Guardian
To mark National Libraries Day, the novelist adds an extra scene to his 1998 satire England, England in which he imagines what happens when the ‘National Coalition’ closes every library down.

The first signs had been misleading, and greeted by some islanders with delight. After Scotland and Wales had left the Union, and Northern Ireland been reunited with the Republic, Europe lost patience with the sulky rump that remained. Decades of carping from the sidelines, while constantly demanding special favours and the repatriation of powers, were finally repaid. Germany and France, strongly backed by Europe’s newest Celtic adherents, led a swift campaign to evict England. “At last,” as the 93-year-old European President-for-Life, Angela Merkel, put it, “we are repatriating to you your powers, and not just the ones you asked for, but all the other ones as well.”…

Since the contents of libraries were deemed valueless, the Coalition simply instructed its enforcement agency (formerly known as the army) to burn the buildings to the ground. But after the first two incinerations, there were mass protests, and human shields were formed round many libraries. More menacingly, two offices of the enforcement agency were burnt down in retaliation. There was a broad suspicion, especially among the elderly, that once information and culture were only available digitally through the englandwideweb, truth would be easier for the government to control. To the surprise of many, the printed book began to take on a symbolic significance, as once it had done in the early years of printing…

This standoff continued for several months, because even to the National Coalition the notion of scores of incinerated citizens as acceptable collateral damage seemed a little excessive. There was negotiation; promises were made, and then more promises, until – to the government’s surprise – the armies of white-haired activists agreed to stop protecting libraries in exchange for an official promise to keep them open, on terms and conditions to be mutually agreed. Naturally, as soon as the defendants withdrew, the government sent in its enforcers with the instruction that not a book survive. Indeed, there was a ministerial memo proposing that the very word “book” should be withdrawn from public discourse. When the thing no longer existed, the word to denote it would surely not survive either…
(3 February 2012)