A new amendment to Spanish copyright law passed the upper house of Spain’s Cortes Generales today, and it is due to become law next year. El Pais reports that the amendment makes a number of revisions to existing law, including the creation of a controversial tax on news aggregators.
The new law makes many problematic changes, including requiring universities to pay fees to a collection society for digital course materials which had otherwise been released under a CC license, but the one I am most interested in today is the tax on news aggregators. (You can find a complete breakdown on the changes on Google en Espanol.)
Colloquially known as the Google tax, the new law is intended to force Google as well as other search engines and news aggregators to pay for the use of links to news articles published elsewhere.
But it probably won’t work – at least not with Google.
The law gives copyright holders the inalienable right to be paid for the use of their work – including a link. This means that they can’t decide to give away the content for free, something Google has required in Germany and elsewhere.
TBH, I’m not sure myself that the law says that links must be licensed, but the text of the law (PDF) is convoluted enough that I am not comfortable arguing with a native speaker.
On the plus side there is an exception for excerpts used for news and entertainment purposes, which means sites like this blog are safe (social networks might also be covered), but the law is still going to compel aggregators like Reddit, Google News, and Spain’s own Menéame to pay for the use of links.
And just so we’re clear, one of the core concepts of the internet, the web link, is now considered to be copyright infringement in Spain when used by certain parties.
Please excuse while I go roll a SAN check.
It’s not clear where news sites and aggregators in Spain will be going from here, but I do know that Google has already issued a statement (originally in Spanish):
We are disappointed with the new law because we believe that services like Google News help publishers to drive traffic to their websites. As regards to the future, we will continue working with Spanish publishers to help them increase their income while we consider our options under the new regulation.
Google hasn’t said how they will respond to the changes in the law but I would bet that at a minimum Google will be delisting any site that might be covered by the new provisions. The search engine giant has taken similar steps in the past, including in Belgium and Germany, when other publishers tried to force it to pay for the free advertising it sends them.
There’s even a chance that Google might pull out of Spain entirely, but at this point that is just wild speculation.
All I know for sure today is that most if not all of the publishers who pushed for this Google tax will come to regret it in short order. It is safe to say that these sites rely on Google for anywhere between a quarter and half of their site traffic, and with Google no longer sending visitors their way the drop in traffic will quickly be felt in the pocketbook.
To be fair, some of the publishers may have already adapted their business model to depend on other sources. The UK’s Telegraph, for example, boosted their site traffic by 20% in June by focusing on better promoting on Facebook.
I do not know that any of the Spanish publishers who backed the Google tax will be able to make similar boasts, though.