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.

2 thoughts on “Spain Pushes Google’s Buttons Over News Content

  1. Heath Chesters

    The Spanish government have indeed gone too far with the legislation and very much to the detriment, of those it should be helping to both protect and promote.

    I run a small sports news website, which has grown very quickly within it’s particular niche. The net impact of Google News pulling out of Spain is much farther reaching than is often being reported, because the majority of major news aggrigator services have also pulled the plug on Spain. As a result, our site suffered a dip in referral traffic from the primary news aggregator services of around 40%. The financial impact caused by this in January alone pushed our business to the brink of closure, due to significant subsequent loss of advertising revenue.

    Our own reaction to this has, digitally speaking, been to pull the plug on our operation being based in Spain and relocate to the USA. We have also shelved plans to expand our business within Spain for the time being. We had planned to open a new office and employ around twenty permanent staff in 2015, which cannot now proceed, if our online business is physically and digitally registered in Spain.

    To highlight the wider reaching impact the “Google Tax” legislation has had, one of the key news aggregator services from which we enjoy the largest amount of referral traffic, NewsNow, has implemented a blanket ban of all Spanish websites which previously featured amongst their listings. To put this into perspective, we’re not just talking about media outlets here, we’re talking ALL websites based in Spain. For example, sites covering tourism (private or corporate business and government run), sports (the official sites of FC Barcelona & Real Madrid are no longer listed, nor indeed official sites of any football club, sporting club or body ), even charities, etc…

    Larger companies with an important digital footprint will suffer a dip in visitors and revenue. However, it is smaller business, enterprise and innovators, who suffer the most given how things have transpired.

    Whilst I support improving ways to protect IP, having suffered breaches of our copyright and plagiarism many times, the key in digital age is consultation and better collaboration on a global scale. Part of the issue many have in Spain over the legislature introduced, is that there has been absolutely no consideration or consultation, with any beyond the very largest publishers in the media industry. Unlike Germany, there is also no freedom to opt out. The Spanish government needs to have a serious rethink, as they genuinely have shot themselves in the foot over this and caused untold damage, because beyond pointing an accusing finger at Google, the repercussion reaches far beyond just Google and their decision to pull the plug on Spain.

  2. Pingback: At Home and Across the Atlantic, Google’s Legal Woes Grow | Copyright and IP Security International

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