Spain Likely To Pass 'Google Tax'; Makes Paying For News Snippets An 'Inalienable Right' And A New Bureaucracy To Collect It

from the yikes dept

We’ve covered a few attempts in Europe to create what appears to basically be a tax on Google News for newspapers. These newspapers, who have been struggling to adapt in the modern internet world would like to blame Google News for their own failures, despite the fact that Google sends them traffic. When a court case in Belgium was won by the newspapers, Google simply removed those newspapers from the local Google News… and those very same newspapers freaked out and demanded to be let back in. This, of course, demonstrates the vast hypocrisy by the newspapers here. They know they need to be in Google News because of all the traffic it drives, but they also demand to be paid for it. Google has made it quite easy for newspapers to opt-out of Google News if they really feel like their work is somehow harmed by having Google link to it — but none of the newspapers use it, because they know how valuable the traffic is. In fact, many of the same newspapers who are complaining are, at the same time, using Google’s own tools to improve how they appear in results.

Efforts like the ones in Belgium have happened in France and in Germany, where a new law was passed last year. That law had some loopholes, so now German newspapers are demanding a huge chunk of money from Google.

But the situation over in Spain just got even more ridiculous. Julio Alonso has the details, in which it appears that the lower house of the Spanish legislature has approved a very, very dangerous bill that creates a brand new inalienable right for news publishers to be paid for, via compulsory licenses, any “electronic news aggregation system,” which is broadly defined as anyone who shares more than just anchor text with a link. A short summary? You’ll have to pay up:

The Spanish law proposal declares that editors cannot refuse the use of ?non-significant fragments of their articles? by third parties. However, it creates a levy on such use to compensate editors and declares it an inalienable right (derecho irrenunciable).

The introduction of the inalienable right was done to avoid what happened in Germany. If you are a digital editor that publishes with a copyleft license, like myself, and you minimally understand how the internet actually works, you cannot decide to not charge Google News. It is compulsory. More than a right it is an obligation. Therefore, Google cannot exclude sites requiring payment from Google News. It would still need to pay for those it includes, even if they do not want to be compensated.

Furthermore, such tax, is to be administered by a third party (entidad de gestión) in a similar way to what SGAE (the Spanish RIAA) does with music rights. In this case most likely CEDRO (the entity that collects fees for the use of written text, photocopies and so on). How much it is to be paid and how the proceedings would be split among editors has not being disclosed. Though there is reason to suspect of a distribution just to AEDE members.

To make things even worse, the tax is not even aimed only at Google. It is aimed generally at ?electronic news aggregation systems?, and, therefore it includes basically anyone who links with anything more than an anchor text.

It seems worth noting here that collection societies around the globe have been plagued with corruption and other problems, often diverting money from smaller creators to the biggest. And, some of the worst stories come from Spain, where SGAE was accused of mass corruption, involving stealing $550 million from artists. That doesn’t bode well for this new “organization.”

As Alonso notes, this isn’t just directed at Google News, but Menéame, a popular Digg/Reddit-like aggregator in Spain (randomly: we get a fair amount of traffic from that site). But it could also impact Twitter and Facebook where people share links with text. And also a variety of other aggregators like Flipboard, Zite and Pocket.

The fact that it’s considered “inalienable” is especially troubling. It basically overrides any concept of fair use, Creative Commons or even public domain material. Furthermore, Alonso notes that a bunch of organizations, including a bunch of other newspapers, are fighting against this, but it didn’t seem to matter. A report has warned that implementing this law could cost the Spanish internet industry over a billion euros, and sites like Menéame are already talking about leaving the country. There are rumors that Google might just shut down Google News in Spain over this. But, still, the legislation was pushed through under questionable circumstances:

The law was passed on Congress in a special session in the mid of summer, on the Culture Committee and not on the plenary session, with almost no debate in a very awkward session, with many Congressmen declaring to the press, sometimes unintentionally, that they knew very little about what they were voting.

Despite widespread public and industry (outside the largest Spanish newspapers) opposition to this, Alonso suggests that the bill is still likely to become law. And we’ll have yet another disastrous policy for the internet, designed to protect the industry of a few legacy players who failed to adapt.

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Companies: google, meneame

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Comments on “Spain Likely To Pass 'Google Tax'; Makes Paying For News Snippets An 'Inalienable Right' And A New Bureaucracy To Collect It”

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52 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Therefore, Google cannot exclude sites requiring payment from Google News. It would still need to pay for those it includes, even if they do not want to be compensated.

WHAT?!?! So they have to pay for people they include, but can’t choose not to include people? That’s insane. Here’s hoping Google News goes dark in Germany even before this law gets passed, just to demonstrate to people how ridiculous this is.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is Spain, not Germany. Also, what is being said here is a little more subtle — it’s not that a news aggregator can’t exclude sites, it’s that it must pay any sites that it includes, even if they don’t want to be paid. They can exclude any sites they like, but it’s no longer possible to distinguish based on payment demands as all sites must be paid for.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

but it’s no longer possible to distinguish based on payment demands as all sites must be paid for.

So standard ‘collection’ agency stuff then, ‘collect’ payments for every site, but only pay out(if they pay out at all) to a select few that are listed with the agency.

That’s a pretty blatant way to force sites to ‘sign up’ with the collection agency. If they don’t, then sites will still be charged to link to them, but they won’t see any money. If they do, then at least they have a chance to maybe, at some time in the future, see some of it.

By forcing all news snippets to be paid for, not just the ones from sites demanding payments, it seems they are both trying to come up with a nice, easy way to squeeze money out of internet companies(which may or may not ever find it’s way to the one’s it’s being ‘collected’ for), as well as pre-emptively head off the natural response from such an idiotic law.

If news aggregators just had to pay for those sites that demanded payment, then the response would be simple: only list snippets from those sites that don’t demand to be paid for the ‘privilege’ of free advertising. The natural response from such a law would cause it to collapse in short order, as site after site suddenly found out that having people able to find their site was far more preferable than not being listed at all, just on the off chance they might get some money at some point in the future.

New Mexico Mark says:

Next step?

I see a creative entrepreneur simply creating a service that automatically sinkholes all news organizations. Subscribers to that service will never accidentally link anything from those organizations. (And I’ll be the entrepreneur could figure out how to monetize this service without charging for it.)

Maybe two levels of identification — smart news organizations, and news organizations who EVER extort money from another organization for linking. Having your network lights effectively wink out within hours of suing someone would help educate even the greediest and most obtuse organizations.

However, I still favor the more general approach since the goal should be to rescind an abysmally stupid law.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Spanish legislative and legal system has been making a lot of really bad decisions regarding internet policy. Didn’t Right to be Forgotten come out of the Spanish courts too?

A compulsory internet tax on sharing articles and linking goes completely against how people naturally behave while surfing the web. We want to share interesting stories with one another and help people find information, by sending them links and obviously a description as to what they’re clicking on.

Spain is run by dinosaurs. They’re trying to build a dinosaur economy and public officials are trying to censor negative news about them, using Right to be Forgotten laws.

They’ve gone off the deep end.

That Anonymous Coward says:

How many of these until Google just gets fed up, blackholes these countries to a page that says “Sorry your country is run by morons.”
We’ve seen these demands for how dare you send us traffic, then Google stops, then the demand is how DARE you not send us traffic!!

These legacy players need Google more than Google needs them.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Stupid is as stupid does

The Spanish law proposal declares that editors cannot refuse the use of “non-significant fragments of their articles” by third parties. However, it creates a levy on such use to compensate editors and declares it an inalienable right (derecho irrenunciable).

Okay, then I will no longer drive traffic towards Spanish news articles by copy/pasting snippets with a link. They’ll learn that those snippets are important when people don’t want to read them because they haven’t the slightest clue what the story’s about beyond the headline.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They want to be found. But they also want to be paid for the privilege of being found.

They want to be paid for getting advertised.

Google and by extension all other news aggregators should either shutdown operations in spain, or they should demand a nominal listing fee for each link of twice the amount they are forced to pay.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So much for Spanish News sites

probably. I can already see it, they bring it to the EU and the new rule will be that any company active in any EU country has to offer its services in any other EU country.

But the rule will be so badly designed that it will destroy most small businesses, even if they never offered services anywhere else outside their home country and the international corporations like google will still not have to follow this bullshit, because they would just leave the EU alltogether…

jameshogg says:

Boss: “Employee, please spend the next week constructing this billboard next to the motorway.”

*A week later, the billboard is done and pay day arrives*

Boss: “That’ll be £2000, please.”

It seems like those who are so reactionary towards Google are those who also want people to work for free. No doubt they will be praised by copyright believers as a result.

In fact, they seem to want small news-indexing businesses to work for free in the name of protecting the little guy.

Anonymous Coward says:

I wish Google would just leave Europe altogether. Operate exclusively from within the United States (no foreign subsidiaries), while still allowing worldwide access to their US servers. The United States is unlikely to recognize foreign judgments that are contrary to US law, so laws like this and the right to be forgotten would not be binding upon Google.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Shouldn’t bridge repairs be paid for by motoring-related taxes, vehicle registrations and fuel excises? I know it doesn’t quite work that way, but shouldn’t it?

It should, except that I believe those funds have now gone into the “General Fund” instead of staying in the “fix the infrastructure” fund.

Eivind says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Maybe. It depends on what the secondary benefits and costs of having people use the bridge is. Charging directly on vehicles/fuel narrows the tax base, making this more expensive.

Totally ideally in terms of this kind of taxes, taxes would be just enough to make each transaction cover all externalized costs, as this maximizes utility of each transaction. People will drive when that improves utility, people will buy a car when that improves utility, etc.

Unfortunately, bridge building is mostly a fixed cost, and complicates matters a bit – as long as we can’t finance this out of the surplus “externalities” charge (and I think it would be too small), we need to get that from some other budget. If there’s a positive externality from people driving around, then charging that more is negative overall.

For additional revenue to cover those positive externalities, an ideal tax is wide (hitting lots of things), and charges on the things we want less of, while leaving things we want more of alone, and in my opinion is progressive so the effective tax burden of everybody is about the same (money is more expensive to the poor than the rich – even percentage-wise). Finding out exactly how to make this work out cleanly is left as an exercise for the reader.

John85851 (profile) says:

Google is a private company

… so why can’t it choose who list and who not to list? If the Spanish government is making a blanket decision, why can’t Google just remove every Spanish new outlet?

How can any government pass a law that says someone has an “inalienable” right to do business with a company?
Google could also pull out of Spain so Spanish law wouldn’t affect them, but as long as they get tax credits in Ireland, they have to follow EU laws.

Adrian Lopez says:

Google should just stop linking to Spanish newspapers altogether. It’s more of a blunt instrument than excluding only those sites which demand payment, but it could still be very effective: The papers will be knocking on the Spanish government’s door to repeal the law just as surely as the Belgian newspapers knocked on Google’s door begging to be allowed back in.

That One Guy says:

Re: Re:

With how the law is written, they would have to, given they either pay for any linking, whether or not the site is demanding payment from Google or not, or don’t link at all.

Personally I agree with you, and I’m hoping Google goes with the second route, and just drops all the linking entirely. Give them what they ask for, but not what they want, and then watch them cry and whine about how Google is being ‘unfair’ and ‘punishing’ them.

Candid Cameron says:

Re: Re:

News aggregators, such as Google, could alternatively set up a system whereby Spanish newspapers who wish to be listed can be so long as they pay the aggregators a nominal fee, say twice the amount the newspapers demand from them. Kind of unfair to the smaller outlets who wouldn’t be able to afford it. Probably fairer if they all just pull out of Spain altogether.

ArkieGuy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Then only the collection agency wins...

The collection agency is going to take a cut. So, the newspaper pays Google, Google keeps half of the money and gives the other half to the collection agency which takes their cut and passes the rest back to the paper.

Oh, and don’t forget bank charges, time, accounting, legal disputes, etc…. Yeah, the only one that wins is the collection agency.

Whatever (profile) says:

Choices

Google’s news service is something they choose to provide beyond their regular search. They could easily exclude Spanish news services from the news part of their site while having them stay in the regular searches.

Google could also choose not to make the news site available in Spain.

I don’t agree with this sort of Google tax, but it’s the sort of response you are likely to see from news organizations who are getting tired of providing the world’s news and not getting the income to cover their activities.

It’s the usual internet magic, nobody seems to realize that without the sources, the pages would be empty. Before you say “open news” or “crowdsourced news” remember that many of the news and information sources (including Techdirt itself) depend heavily on reporting from major commercial news services as their source or reference material. You only have to search for the number of times that newspapers and other organizations are referenced here to understand the implications.

Spain’s Google tax sucks. The alternatives may in fact suck worse in the long run.

That One Guy says:

Re: Choices

They know they need to be in Google News because of all the traffic it drives, but they also demand to be paid for it. Google has made it quite easy for newspapers to opt-out of Google News if they really feel like their work is somehow harmed by having Google link to it — but none of the newspapers use it, because they know how valuable the traffic is. In fact, many of the same newspapers who are complaining are, at the same time, using Google’s own tools to improve how they appear in results.

Yes, Google could indeed stop listing them, the newspapers could cause this to happen effectively overnight with minimal effort on their part, but that’s not what the newspapers want, they just want google to pay them for the ‘priviledge’ of providing free advertising.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Choices

“Google could also choose not to make the news site available in Spain.”

They could. Hopefully, they will. But this won’t magically send revenue back to the newspapers.

“it’s the sort of response you are likely to see from news organizations who are getting tired of providing the world’s news and not getting the income to cover their activities.”

No, it’s the sort of response you get from short-sighted organisations who don’t like the internet and won’t change their business models to address the reality of the modern world.

Attacking Google for sending them traffic is not the answer.

“It’s the usual internet magic, nobody seems to realize that without the sources, the pages would be empty.”

…and these morons are the only possible sources because? Oh yeah, you have to disagree with an article here no matter what, but god forbid you make any insight into anything. No, just make a snarky comment about “magic” and pretend that nobody has any other ideas to discuss. Those strawmen sure are easy to hit, right?

In fact, the only point you try and make is that you agree with the original article. The “tax” sucks. What’s your alternative?

tebee (profile) says:

The internet routes round problems

So what happens if I start a site outside Spain links to the Spains news sites and let all the news aggregators in Spain link to that instead ?

There will be no fees for the aggregators to pay as my site is outside Spain and the news site are not going to be able to charge me as I’m not in Spain. I make a little money from the ads on my pages.

Or will they try to find some way to charge for secondary links ? That would be worse nightmare for everybody.

James says:

There Is More.

For many years, Newspapers have been complaining about this sites earn money with their job. When the goverment passed this law, every newspaper had an article about this, and so happy about that. Well, the funny thing is, that in the bottom or in one side of the article you can find buttons which can allow you to share the article in social networks, or in Meneame (A webpage where the users can send a link to an article, image, video, etc… that is interesting, kind of a Spanish reedit).

The other important thing, this law only was passed when major newspapers stopped to criticize the government. I mean, the government bought this newspapers. And this laws is a good thing for this government. They don’t want that people is informed. They wants that the only truth is their truth.

P.S. Sorry for my english

James says:

Re: There Is More.

I forgot to say. For example I have a blog, and one day someone find one of my entries interesting and shared it. the thing will be, that AEDE (which is an association of daily newspapers) will recieve money for every link, not only for links of their members also for mine too. And the money only will be share between its members.

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