BERLIN (Reuters) - A court in Berlin on Tuesday referred to the European Court of Justice a dispute in which German publishers want search engine providers such as Google (GOOGL.O) to pay them for displaying parts of their newspaper articles online.
Germany's biggest newspaper publisher Axel Springer (SPRGn.DE) and 40 other publishers have accused Alphabet Inc's Google of copyright infringement in the case.
The European Court of Justice will now have to look into whether a German media law dealing with copyright issues is in line with European principles.
It must decide whether the German government should have presented its draft Leistungsschutzrecht law to the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, before it took effect in 2013, judge Peter Scholz said.
"We think that the complaint is at least partially justified," Scholz said in his ruling, without giving details.
But he said the European Court of Justice should review the matter, a process that could take around a year, according to a lawyer for the publishers.
If the court finds the German government should have had its law reviewed by the EU, that could remove the legal basis for the publishers' complaint, experts said.
A German Justice Ministry spokesman said the government had not seen any reason to present the draft law to the European Commission and get approval.
A Google spokesman said the company remained convinced that it would prevail, saying Tuesday's ruling showed the German copyright law was full of contradictions and open-ended questions.
Reporting by Klaus Lauer; Writing by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Janet Lawrence