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.