By Manuel Ángel Méndez
The Spanish government has just approved a horrible law that will force news aggregation services, such as Google News, to pay news sites for each link they include with their content. You read that right: On top of sending sites a tonne of traffic, Google (other aggregators like Yahoo News, and maybe even Facebook or Twitter) will be forced to pay for each link they publish.
Essentially, Spain has just become the first country in the world to charge for linking online.
This tax, called "canon AEDE" or "Google tax" (which affects way more than just Google) is just one part of the new Copyright Law approved today in Spain, called Ley de Propiedad Intelectual (LPI). It will be effective starting January 1st 2015. And of course, there's an outcry, as well there should be. "[It's] a law that serves no citizen, but the interest of a few politicians and companies. It is a clear example of the corruption of the system," explains lawyer Carlos Sánchez Almeida to Gizmodo en Español.
This "Google tax" is thanks to the lobbying of AEDE, the Spanish association of some of the top media companies in the country, mostly traditional newspapers faced with the challenge of reinventing themselves in a online world. They blame Google and services like Google News for "stealing" their work without payment and in 2013, the they started pressuring the Spanish government to make Google and other aggregators pay for the privilege of linking.
Attempts like this are nothing new. Media firms in various countries have tried the same strategy, with no results so far. The most recent case is Germany, where newspapers made the same demands. The search giant responded by unlisting them from Google News. A few weeks later, some of those same newsapers have agreed to be listed back in Google News because, you know, traffic.
Minutes after the Spanish Congress approved its own "Google tax" today, Google Spain published the following statement:
We are disappointed with the new law, we believe that services like Google News help editors bring traffic to their web pages. Moving forward, we'll continue working with editors to help them increase their revenues while we study our options in the new regulatory landscape.
Google News could close its doors in Spain. They could also go the German way, unlisting all the media firms from the AEDE association in Google News. However, given how many outlets are in the AEDE association, it could leave Google News so close to empty that it might as well just shut down.
Worst part? The "Google tax" is not the only embarrassing point of the newly approved Copyright Law in Spain. Beginning January 1st of next year, the government also gets the power to shut down any website containing links to copyrighted material, even if those websites don't profit from them via ads or other revenue streams. All without previous approval from a judge, of course. And, if these websites do't agree to take down those links, they face fines of up to 760.000 dollars before final closure.
The new IP law not only applies to the "infringing" sites themselves, but also to third-party companies providing them with hosting or payment systems. "It´s pure censorship, Chinese style. The same strategy governments used to kill Wikileaks", says Sánchez Almeida. "Instead of figuring out a way to pay authors with new business models, they prosecute, fine, and close. The fact that even websites with no ads in it could be closed down, shows this is just an attempt from the Spanish Government to control what we share online and how we share it."
Hopefully the sudden lack of Google traffic will convince the AEDE association that maybe it was wrong all along, and it won't be to late to walk back some of this legislation. but if not, the precedent will only make it more likely that similar laws could pass elsewhere, and make the internet worse for everyone. Welcome the Internet, Spanish style.
Photo 1: AP; Photo 2: Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock