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German copyright law protecting news sites from search engines delayed by constitutional concerns

It is unclear if the law will pass Parliament before the new elections, an official said

New concerns about whether a controversial German online copyright bill is constitutional are likely to delay voting on the measure that would have allowed publishers to charge search engines such as Google for reproducing short snippets from news articles.

The doubts were raised on Friday by Siegfried Kauder, member of Parliament (MP) for the German CDU party and head of the legal affairs committee that is preparing the law before it is submitted to a vote by the German Parliament.

Following a January committee meeting with lawyers, professors and representatives of the publishing industry, but without industry players like Google, Facebook or other tech companies, important questions remain, Kauder said in a news release.

The proposed legislation could be in conflict with rights to freedom of information, a German fundamental right, said Kauder, who is a lawyer. The law could also be in conflict with the right to freedom of profession, he said.

Furthermore, it is unclear to him why the new law should only apply to publishers and not to similar information providers. He also said that the proposed law should have been presented in Brussels so that other E.U. countries could comment on it.

Kauder requested a new expert hearing in the legal committee to answer the constitutional questions.

Kauder also believes there are technical mechanisms to prevent search engines from accessing and republishing news snippets, and is seeking more information about why publishers need a law to protect their copyright in these cases.

To discuss this issue, a meeting of the subcommittee on new media will take place on Monday. In this meeting, Google as well as a representative from the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) and two other experts will be heard.

The law appeared likely to pass a vote in the Parliament next week, but was taken off the agenda, said Ingmar Scholtz, research assistant and head of Kauder's office. Kauder's doubts led to a disagreement about the law within the coalition, and it is now uncertain if and when the bill will again be put on the parliamentary agenda, he added.

"They might not even be able to succeed this election period," he said. The vote would have to be held before June, according to Scholtz. Parliamentary elections will be held in September.

Publishers on Friday denied that they were talking to Google about a deal similar to one French publishers made earlier this month. Rumors of talks emerged after Philipp Rösler, Germany's federal minister of economics and technology, told the press on Thursday that representatives of publishing companies were touring Silicon Valley, suggesting they were there to talk about legal issues, Netzpolitik.org reported.

While German newspaper editors are indeed in the U.S., speculation about negotiations is based on a misunderstanding, according to a Twitter post by Christoph Keese, public affairs manager for publishing company Axel Springer, who represented the publishers during the first legal affairs committee.

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 loek_essers@idg.com

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