Google shut down its Google News page in Spain on December 16 in response to a Spanish law that requires news aggregation sites to pay publishers for posted links to content. Instead of its usual news compilation, the Google News page in Spain displayed a message on Tuesday morning stating, “We’re incredibly sad to announce that, due to recent changes in Spanish law, we have removed Spanish publishers from Google News and closed Google News in Spain.” Google also indicated that it will remove Spanish publishers from all of its international news editions. The company runs over 70 international news sites in 35 languages.
What Spain’s “Google Tax” law requires
Earlier this year, the Spanish government passed an intellectual property law that requires Internet news compilers that post links and excerpts of news articles to pay a fee to the Association of Editors of Spanish Dailies, an organization that represents Spanish newspapers. Set to take effect in January 2015, the law is popularly known as the “Google tax.” The terms of the law provide that news aggregation services that fail to pay the fees as required can incur a fine of up to 600,000 euros, which is approximately $750,000 US. The law does not allow publishers to opt out of its terms nor offer their news content for free. Beyond the “Google tax,” Spain’s new law will also require websites to delete links to material that infringes upon copyright, whether or not the posting sites make monetary profits from the infringing links. Associated sites that provide hosting or payment processing services to copyright-infringing sites will also be subject to the law.
Uncertain legal details
The new Spanish law does not specify how much news aggregation sites must pay for content that they post. This will be decided in additional proceedings during the coming year in which the government and affected parties will take part. The law’s terms also do not definitively prescribe which types of article-linking sites would be subject to the fee requirements, leaving operators of social media sites questioning whether and to what extent the law applies to them. While Spain’s ministry of culture has stated that social media and their users would be exempt from paying the fee required by the new legislation, the law’s impact on social media sites with user-driven aggregation is currently uncertain.
Viewpoints for and against the law
As the Google shutdown loomed last week, the media publishers in Spain who lobbied for the passage of the law maintained their position that news content providers must be given fair compensation for their material when it is used by other parties. On the other side of the viewpoint divide, Google expressed the reasoning behind its Google News closure in Spain. Richard Gringras, the head of Google News, wrote in a recent blog post that because “Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable.” Google and other critics of the law have also noted that news aggregation services provide a benefit by sending traffic to websites with linked content. The Google News shutdown in Spain seems to foreshadow further developments in this new zone of legal debate sparked by this new law.