The Story of Spain’s Google Tax
As has happened elsewhere, France, Belgium and Germany come quickly to mind, Spanish newspaper editors have been arguing for long that Google is taking unfair advantage of them. They say that Google is using their contents on Google News without any retribution and have long being lobbying the Spanish government on it. Now it seems like they are going to get away with it.
Last February Canon AEDE, Spanish for the Google Tax pushed by AEDE, the Spanish newspaper association that represents the largest newspapers, got included by surprise in the Governments’ Intelectual Property Law Reform Proposal. This reform was on it’s own already very controversial and had been much criticized by the Spanish internet community.
Last week (July 22nd 2014), the proposal was passed in the Congreso de los Diputados (low chamber in the Spanish two chamber system) and it will most likely be passed in the Senate in September and turned into law.
What does the Canon AEDE say?
Once you read the actual proposal, it becomes quite clear that Spanish newspaper editors have learned from the German experience. There the government passed a similar law that forced Google to pay newspaper editors if they were included in Google News. When approved, Google excluded all newspaper editors from Google News and asked anyone wanting to be listed to reapply explicitly declaring that they renounced to be compensated. All newspaper did reapply not wanting to miss out on the traffic it generates. Google won.
The Spanish law proposal declares that editors cannot refuse the use of “non-significant fragments of their articles” by third parties. However, it creates a levy on such use to compensate editors and declares it an inalienable right (derecho irrenunciable).
The introduction of the inalienable right was done to avoid what happened in Germany. If you are a digital editor that publishes with a copyleft license, like myself, and you minimally understand how the internet actually works, you cannot decide to not charge Google News. It is compulsory. More than a right it is an obligation. Therefore, Google cannot exclude sites requiring payment from Google News. It would still need to pay for those it includes, even if they do not want to be compensated.
Furthermore, such tax, is to be administered by a third party (entidad de gestión) in a similar way to what SGAE (the Spanish RIAA) does with music rights. In this case most likely CEDRO (the entity that collects fees for the use of written text, photocopies and so on). How much it is to be paid and how the proceedings would be split among editors has not being disclosed. Though there is reason to suspect of a distribution just to AEDE members.
To make things even worse, the tax is not even aimed only at Google. It is aimed generally at “electronic news aggregation systems”, and, therefore it includes basically anyone who links with anything more than an anchor text. Center on its target is Spanish aggregation site Menéame. A Spanish free software based version of Digg/Reddit launched in 2005, Menéame is a very popular destination for news discovery in Spanish. Obviously any other service that does aggregation of any type or form is also potentially affected. This includes Flipboard, Zite, Pocket, even Facebook or Twitter.
The law was passed on Congress in a special session in the mid of summer, on the Culture Committee and not on the plenary session, with almost no debate in a very awkward session, with many Congressmen declaring to the press, sometimes unintentionally, that they knew very little about what they were voting.
Reactions on the Spanish Internet
The Spanish Internet already had a history of opposing previous intelectual property legislation, most famously the 2009 Ley Sinde, which handed over to an administrative body the decision to shut down web sites, previously in the hands of the judiciary.
The current Intelectual Property Law Reform had already been contested on its own right. Among other things it gives the Sinde Commission (in charge of closing down sites for IP infringement) wider powers, and it involves advertisers and payment systems in the effort under the menace of 300,000 euros fines if they do not collaborate.
To opposed this new proposal, an organization called Coalición Pro Internet has been created. It logically includes Google (which in Spain till now had only done secret lobbying and no public activism) and Menéame, but also AEEPP, the largest association of Spanish newspapers, Adigital (the association of Spanish internet companies), and noted digital-only publishers like Weblogs SL (my own company), eldiario.es, ADSLZone, Hipertextual and many others. A report it commissioned estimates the law’s damage to Spanish Internet industry at 1.1 billion euros. Facebook and Twitter, although invited, did not participate in the Coalición.
Meneame users started on their own accord a still standing boicot on AEDE sites which has kept them completely out of their high traffic generating homepage since February. Firefox and Chrome plugins have been created that prevent users from unwillingly opening pages of AEDE sites. There is even a Wordpress plugin to eliminate existing AEDE site links and to block new ones.
Spanish political parties have not been too receptive to the critics. The law was passed in the Congress Culture Committee by 22 votes to 20, with only the ruling Popular Party supporting it. However, most of those who voted against did it because they wanted it to be more strict with copyright infringement.
It is rumored that if the law is finally passed, Google is ready to shut down the Spanish version of Google News. It clearly does not want to create a precedent of a country in which it is basically paying to link. Because of the inalienable right it cannot weed out sites demanding to be paid. And, anyways, closing it up would be inconsequential to its revenues.
Services like Menéame are openly talking about moving abroad. Everyone else in the Spanish Internet community is shocked at how the government keeps making it less and less attractive to found Spanish internet companies.
At the end, the newspapers editors will not see a dime. Those who have them, like Google, will rather close their Spanish service. Those that don’t, like Menéame, will either leave the country or close up for good. What they will certainly get if Google News Spain is closed and sites like Menéame disappear is reduced new media discoverability. Maybe that’s what they really wanted after all.
Disclaimer: I am the Founder and CEO of Weblogs SL, a large Spanish digital-only media company. My company is a member of Coalición Pro Internet and Adigital.
Further Information (in Spanish):
- Antonio Delgado | Desmontando el Canon AEDE
- Antonio Ortiz, Xataka | Crónica del mayor robo a internet jamás perpetrado
- Ricardo Galli (Menéame founder), El Mundo | Justificamos lo que hacemos, demonizamos si lo hacen otros
- Ricardo Galli | Un apunte personal rápido sobre el canon AEDE
- Julio Alonso | Canon AEDE, efectos colaterales: Disparo a los agregadores y mato al enlace
- Carlos Otto, El Confidencial | El Canon AEDE o por qué los periodistas queremos vivir del aire
- David Maeztu | Derecho por agregación de contenidos en la reforma de la LPI y su impacto a servicios de internet (legal overview)