In a move to minimize legal risks, Google has stopped showing news snippets and thumbnails for some well-known German news sites in search results.
Google will show just a link to a story along with the headline for news sites such as bild.de, bunte.de or hoerzu.de, said Google Germany's country manager Philipp Justus on Wednesday.
The decision is the result of ongoing legal action started by several German news publishers that are members of the collecting society VG Media. After Google refused to compensate the publishers, they sued in June to get a cut of the ad revenue the company makes when it republishes parts of their news articles.
The publisher's claim is based on a German online copyright law that came into effect last August, giving publishers the exclusive right to the commercial use of their content and parts thereof, except in the case of single words or small text snippets.
That law clearly means that search engines with a commercial interest like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo must pay fees, according to the publishers. VG Media has also started similar legal action against Yahoo and other German search engines and aggregators.
The legal action from the publishers is "very disappointing because all news publishers are already free to choose whether they appear in our products or not," said Justus.
Removing snippets and thumbnails was necessary "to minimize our legal risks," a Google spokesman said.
By leaving the links to news articles in its search results, however, Google hasn't gone as far as other German sites with search abilities that decided to remove VG Media content entirely.
The publishers claim that Google is blackmailing those with copyrights and discriminating against publishers that are trying to enforce their intellectual property rights.
Google wants to force publishers to let their content be used free of charge, VG Media said.
The publishers want fair compensation from Google, which owns 93% of the German search market, they said. Google should not "frustrate that process in an anticompetitive way," they said in a statement, vowing to continue their legal proceedings against the company.
But Google maintains that it works hard to help news publishers generate an audience and revenue online, with over half a billion clicks for German news publishers each month. In addition, Google's advertising partnerships have generated over €1 billion (US$1.3 billion) in revenue for German publishers over the last three years, Justus said.
"It's why many German news outlets -- from Sueddeutsche to FAZ and Die Zeit to Spiegel and 5,000 more -- choose to include their content in Google Search and Google News and also why thousands of German publishers choose to work with Google as an advertising partner," Justus said.
Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org