Back in October, we noted that Spain had passed a ridiculously bad Google News tax, in which it required any news aggregator to pay for snippets and actually went so far as to make it an “inalienable right” to be paid for snippets — meaning that no one could choose to let any aggregator post snippets for free. Publishers have to charge any aggregator. This is ridiculous and dangerous on many levels. As we noted, it would be deathly for digital commons projects or any sort of open access project, which thrive on making content reusable and encouraging the widespread sharing of such content.

Apparently, it’s also deathly for Google News in Spain. A few hours ago, Google announced that due to this law, it was shutting down Google News in Spain, and further that it would be removing all Spanish publications from the rest of Google News. In short, Google went for the nuclear option in the face of a ridiculously bad law:

But sadly, as a result of a new Spanish law, we’ll shortly have to close Google News in Spain. Let me explain why. This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not. As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable. So it’s with real sadness that on 16 December (before the new law comes into effect in January) we’ll remove Spanish publishers from Google News, and close Google News in Spain.

Every time there have been attempts to get Google to cough up some money to publishers in this or that country, people (often in our comments) suggest that Google should just “turn off” Google News in those countries. Google has always resisted such calls. Even in the most extreme circumstances, it’s just done things like removing complaining publications from Google News, or posting the articles without snippets. In both cases, publishers quickly realized how useful Google News was in driving traffic and capitulated. In this case, though, it’s not up to the publishers. It’s entirely up to the law.

The reason the law made it an “inalienable right” was to prevent Google from just removing those publishers. Instead, the end result is it got Google to shut down the whole thing, and deprive every Spanish publication not of money, but of traffic — which may be much more important.

For centuries publishers were limited in how widely they could distribute the printed page. The Internet changed all that — creating tremendous opportunities but also real challenges for publishers as competition both for readers’ attention and for advertising Euros increased. We’re committed to helping the news industry meet that challenge and look forward to continuing to work with our thousands of partners globally, as well as in Spain, to help them increase their online readership and revenues.

And the really stupid thing in all this is that, as Google notes, it wasn’t even placing ads on Google News in Spain. So it’s not even that publishers could claim that Google was “profiting” from driving such traffic to their sites.

So, nice going Spanish politicians. Your new copyright law not only makes you a laughingstock for pushing a ridiculous industry-driven legislation, but you’ve made life worse off for everyone. Citizens lose an important way to find relevant news. Publishers lose a big traffic driver. Open access and digital commons are now effectively dead in Spain as well. Who has won here?

Even if you’re a Google hater who is happy to see a country pass a clearly anti-Google law, there are much bigger issues here, as pointed out by the EFF, which highlights how this law is an attack on the basic right to link:

What concerns EFF more is that these ancillary copyright laws form part of a broader trend of derogation from the right to link. This can be seen when you examine the other parts of the Spanish copyright amendments that take effect in January (here in PDF)—notably placing criminal liability on website operators who refuse to remove mere links to copyright-infringing material.

This year’s European Court of Justice ruling against Google Spain on the so-called Right to be Forgotten, is part of the same larger trend, in requiring search engines to remove links to content judged to be “irrelevant”, even if the content is true. We are also disturbed by comments made by new European Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger who has foreshadowed [German] a broader roll-out of ancillary copyright rules throughout the EU.

Online intermediaries may be a convenient scapegoat for the fading fortunes of European newspaper publishers, but banning the use of text snippets alongside website links is a misguided and—now self-evidently—counter-productive approach. Once it becomes illegal for aggregators to freely link news summaries to publicly-available websites, it becomes that much easier for those who want to prohibit other sorts of links, such as links to political YouTube videos, to make their case.

Hopefully politicians in the rest of Europe take notice, before pushing forward with similarly short-sighted attacks on linking and aggregating.


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