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German online copyright law to take effect in August

A German online copyright law that will give publishers the exclusive right to the commercial use of their publications on the Internet will come into effect on Aug. 1.

The law was published in Germany’s Federal Law Gazette (Bundesgesetzblatt) on Tuesday. After a law is published in the gazette, it will come into effect, a spokeswoman said.

The new rule is a toned down version of a controversial online copyright bill that aimed to give publishers the right to charge search engines like Google for republishing short text snippets of the kind used in Google News.

The law as published does not extend to news snippets though. It states that publishers have the exclusive right to commercialize their products or parts thereof, except in the case of single words or very small text snippets. 

This change has made the impact of the new law on search engines and publishers unclear. The exemption of single words and small text snippets was added so search engines and aggregators could continue to show search results without infringing on the rights of the copyright holders, according to a document explaining the bill.

But publishers contend that even in its altered state, the bill allows them to determine the conditions under which search engines and the like can use their content.

The legislation was passed by the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house, on March 1 and was also approved by the Bundesrat, Germany’s upper house, later in the month.

There will probably be a debate about how the new law should be interpreted, wrote Thomas Stadler, a German lawyer specializing in IT and intellectual property, in a blog post. “Also, it remains to be seen whether and in what form the publishers will try to enforce this law,” he wrote.

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