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Copyright in the Information Society – Breaches of Copyright by Search Engines

Copyright in the Information Society – Breaches of Copyright by Search Engines

Using the incommensurable quantity of information in the World Wide Web effectively is almost impossible without calling on search services. Search engine providers have a central function in the structuring of existing knowledge, and for many Internet users a search engine is, in fact, the starting point every time they look into the Internet.

The way search engines function technically involves an automatic search of all websites. Examining the websites for content “online” is impossible in that process. The content found is instead held in a buffer and, when it is sought by the user, so-called hit lists, which contain short extracts from the contents found or also so-called thumbnails, that is greatly reduced versions of images published in the internet, are displayed, as well as links to the respective websites.Regarding thumbnails the BGH has ruled in the decisions Vorschaubilder I and II that the rights owners basically agree to the infringement by the search engine when rights owners themselves or a third party have provided the image with consent of the creator without making technological arrangements to keep search engines from finding and showing the respective image.


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Project Description

The dissertation explores the classification of search engines with regard to copyright law, thereby taking into account US American legislation on the search engine phenomenon, first in a singular legal way, and reaches the conclusion that search engine operators infringe copyright law. On the basis of this singular legal result and by resorting to the US-American fair use doctrine it is examined with regard to European and constitutional law whether the introduction of a gate in favour of intermediaries – such as search engines – and the related change of copyright law would be legitimate. The result of this examination is that the introduction of a gate, which enables interference with copyright law, which for the functioning of a search engine are not essential, would be compatible with Art. 14 Abs. 1 GG.

The dissertation was submitted to the University of Hamburg in January 2012.

Project Information


Duration: 2007-2012

Involved persons

Inka Brunn

Third party

Cooperation Partner

Contact person


Inka Brunn

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