Journalistic Statesmanship: Protecting the Press in Weimar Germany and Abroad


From August 2013, a new, controversial ancillary copyright law (Leistungsschutzrecht) permitted German publishers to charge online news aggregator, such as Google for displaying article snippets. Implementation remains contested, but this is not the first time that new technology has prompted Germans to seek intellectual property rights in news. In August 1927, a German delegation successfully pushed through its compromise resolution on the legal protection of news during a Conference of Press Experts at the League of Nations. The resolution foresaw protection for news before publication, but allowed national governments to regulate news after publication. This left space for Germany to promulgate a national law on news that Germans hoped would become a model for others. This article uses the Conference of Press Experts to argue that German approaches to media, technology and law developed from the intersection between national and international concerns. In contrast to other scholars’ focus on the press as a national phenomenon, the article shows that the international spotlight enabled a temporary cooperation between two groups often at odds during the Weimar Republic: the press and government officials. Officials saw law as a form of soft power to raise Germany’s international profile, while the semi-official news agency, Wolff, aimed to counter domestic competition and stop radio listeners eavesdropping on its news. Yet, bureaucrats and the media only cooperated effectively on the international stage. In domestic discussions after the conference, consensus swiftly disintegrated. This interplay between national and international imperatives remains key for media policy today as well as in interwar German history.

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Last updated on 11/11/2014