Google has decided to permanently shut down its Google News service in Spain in response to a new law that requires search engines and news aggregators such as Google to pay a fee for every text snippet they use to link to a news article.
The law, scheduled to go into effect in January, amends Spain’s copyright laws in such a manner as to require Spanish publications to mandatorily charge Google and other online aggregators for the use of text snippets from their publications. The fee applies regardless of how small the snippet might be.
“As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable,” Richard Gingras, the head of Google News, said in a blog post Dec. 10.
“So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.”
Google often uses the headline and the first one or two sentences of a story to anchor links to news articles from its Google News site. But neither Google, Yahoo nor other search engines and aggregators until recently have been asked to pay for such content.
The Spanish law is part of what appears to be a broader effort across the European Union to get search engine sites in general to compensate publishers for using their content. In March 2013, German legislators passed a copyright law amendment, which some have dubbed the “Google tax,” similar to the one in Spain.
The law gives German publishers the right to prohibit Google and others from using their material, unless they pay an ancillary copyright fee. Unlike the Spanish law, which gives publishers the “inalienable” right to fees, Germany’s bill gives publishers the freedom to choose whether or not to impose a fee for content use.
Earlier this year, VG Media, a consortium of German publishers that includes Axel Springer, Germany’s largest publishing house, used the law to prohibit Google from using text and images from their publications on Google’s site. In response, Google started posting only the headlines of their articles on Google News. But after just two weeks, Axel Springer backed down from its position, saying the move had caused traffic to its Websites to drop dramatically. In comments to German media, the chief executive of Axel Springer noted that Google’s influence over online audiences was too powerful to ignore.
“The German law has been a manifest failure, where publishers willingly forfeited their right to payment from Google as soon as they realized how much traffic they would lose from not being indexed on Google News,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) blogged Dec 10.
It is likely that Google’s decision to stop offering Google News in Spain will have a similar outcome, the EFF said. “It is hard to see what value this has achieved for the press in Spain or for Spanish (and Spanish speaking) Internet users,” the EFF said.
Google itself has maintained that publishers can choose whether they want their content to appear in Google News or not. It has also maintained that the service helps drive traffic, and thereby advertising revenue, for publishers.
Concerns that U.S.-based technology companies are profiting from European data without paying their fair share of taxes appear to be the motivation for such special-interest laws, the EFF said. “Online intermediaries may be a convenient scapegoat for the fading fortunes of European newspaper publishers, but banning the use of text snippets alongside website links is a misguided and—now self-evidently—counter-productive approach.”