Monthly Archives: January 2015

Spain Pushes Google’s Buttons Over News Content

Europe has long held a healthy concern about the power wielded by search giant Google. With more than 80% market share and increasingly influential in all areas of technology, from desktop to mobile, browser to cloud computing, the company has found opposition mounting around the European Union in various guises.

Now it’s the turn of Spain, but the country’s government appears to have gone too far with its attempt to squeeze Google over its News product.

The so-called “Google tax,” which was passed last week, intends to collect revenue from online news providers who aggregate headlines from Spanish media outlets. It goes into effect on January 1st, 2015, but Google chose to act preemptively to avoid charges and earlier today shut down its news item content from Spanish content providers.

The law has been widely criticized by journalists, especially in the technology sector, for being over prescriptive and getting its just desserts with Google pulling the plug on a product that provides valuable traffic to the country’s publications. That criticism largely fails to delve into the nuance of intellectual property, however, and present the other side of the argument that publishers should have a right to dictate how and when their content is used.

In some cases the news that Google presents may in itself stand as a piece of content, in which case it benefits the search engine but not the publication whose headlines it has pulled. Spain’s law does go too far in the other direction though, making payments mandatory and giving publishers no option to decide that they want to give away these snippets in exchange for the traffic that a search engine can send them.

For its part Google’s reasoning that it makes no money on news, while accurate in fact, seems somewhat disingenuous. Although its News section makes no revenue from ads directly, it’s certainly a factor that attracts users who go on to search the company’s other listings, building its brand and generating revenue on ad clicks in those paid sections. In that sense at least, Google is playing off the content of others – in this case snippets of their reports – in order to bring in the eyeballs that swell its allure for advertisers.

More than anything else this case demonstrates just how fine a line content creators now walk, in terms of monetizing what they create directly versus giving elements of it away for free in order to play the long game. For news sites that means traffic to sell its adverts or subscriptions for more. As that traffic is likely to dip substantially without Google in the weeks and months to come, it’s understandable why Spanish publishers are quickly backtracking on this attempt to push Google’s buttons.

Netflix VPN Errors Raise Divisive Issue of “Geo-Dodging”

Local access, global networkIf you subscribe to Netflix, you’re probably used to the monthly search for new and disappearing titles, as well as digging into the depths of its vault for movies and TV shows you may have missed. It can be a somewhat frustrating search, but ultimately rewarding when you uncover a hidden gem to watch or catch a series that’s just about to expire from the archives.

While that’s a common activity within any individual domestic viewing market, imagine multiplying that search by every single country in which the service operates — that’s 40 separate nations, as of September 2014.

Even so, due to varying international release requirements that have existed for some time and extend beyond any one streaming service, that’s exactly what some users choose to do. “Geo-dodging” involves using virtual proxy networks to bypass geographical restrictions – violating the service’s user agreement in the process – and accessing content licensed only for certain markets. Although it’s not considered fair game by streaming services or the studios who fill their viewing vaults, the practice has been a possibility for anyone with a little technical knowhow (and a lot of time to search for the content they want across tens of different viewing markets).

Now, however, Netflix appears to be clamping down on these digital border jumpers.

 

In December many observers noticed a spike in VPN-related errors when accessing the service via these more private connections, prompting speculation that Netflix and its ilk have seen more pressure from studios to enforce the regional release agreements under which they license much of their content. Although Netflix has denied any specific crackdown on the question of geo-dodging viewers,

Being the base of both Netflix and Hollywood, the U.S. vaults of streaming services are of course the prime destination for viewers outside of North America. Each area has its own popular titles that are currently unavailable in another, though, and creators in each original country have a right to control how and when their work comes out around the world.

Geo-dodging through the use of VPN’s is an activity which, while some distance down from illegal file sharing and torrent streaming on the anti-piracy laundry list,  remains a persistent thorn in the side of studios. Their business model and marketing campaigns are based upon carefully crafted release schedules designed to maximize movie-goers and minimize piracy.

Although these can sometimes be turned into lemonade, as with the enforced online release of The Interview over the holidays, all too often unexpected changes can leave studios with a lemon. The pre-release piracy of Expendables 3 last year showed just how much this kind of thing can bite at the box office, and though to a lesser extent, online sales of a title can just as easily be cannibalized in one market by viewers dipping into another area to stream before it is officially licensed.

The legal options for viewers remain extensive and impressive. Throw in a little patience (or a little extra investment to see a theater release, as creators often intended) and we begin to move toward a global release system that balances the needs of both creator and consumer, without grating too much on either party.