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.