Spain is far from the first European country whose newspapers have battled what they perceive as Google’s theft of their content. But a bill currently under consideration there could have impacts beyond the search giant.
According to the proposed law — passed in the lower chamber and pending in the Spanish Senate — Google and other platforms would have to pay a tax for each time it uses “non-significant fragments” of a news story. Julio Alonso is the founder of Weblogs SL, a digital media company in Spain that could stand to lose a lot via this tax. On Medium, he writes:
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.
Another blogger in Spain, Marilín Gonzalo, writes that Menéame has threatened to leave the country. Writes Alonso:
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.
Of course, news organizations rely on these websites, especially Google News, to drive traffic to their stories, so Google abandoning the country could have major consequences for Spanish news publishers.
How the law will actually be enforced remains to be seen. Over at Quartz, in a piece called “Nobody seems quite sure how Spain’s new ‘Google tax’ will work,” Kabir Chibber says the Spanish government has insisted that Facebook and Twitter won’t have to pay the tax, but the rest is still up in the air.
The fact that Spain’s law protects only its daily newspapers and not other publishers may make it harder to defend, but now that it has passed, we’ll have to wait for the first test cases. How they’ll be enforced is still unclear, but it’s worth remembering that Spain gave us the case that led to another controversial ruling that went against Google: the “right to be forgotten.”