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Forced to pay for content, Google News closes in Spain

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - 06:33
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US giant Google on Tuesday shut down its popular online news service in Spain in protest at a new law which would make it pay for content.

[MADRID] US giant Google on Tuesday shut down its popular online news service in Spain in protest at a new law which would make it pay for content.

"We're incredibly sad to announce that, due to recent changes in Spanish law, we have removed Spanish publishers from Google News and closed Google News in Spain," read a message on the company's Spanish news page, which is normally full of aggregated content.

"As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach was not sustainable," it added.

Google announced on December 10 that it would close Google News in Spain because of a Spanish intellectual property law, due to take effect on January 1, that requires news publishers to receive payment for content even if they are willing to give it away.

The law has been dubbed the "Google tax" in Spain but it would also apply to other big web companies with pages that reproduce and link to news content, such as Yahoo.

Google is facing pressure from publishers in several European countries, who accuse the online search titan of taking advantage of its dominant position in the market, They are demanding payment for use of their content but this is the first time Google News has shut down in a country.

Industry Minister Jose Maria Soria hinted that a compromise solution may still be found.

"No decision should be taken that is irreversible. I think that over the coming months, the situation will probably evolve," he told reporters when asked about the closure of Google News.

"It was publishers themselves who submitted the idea of a tax to the government. The sector must now wait to see what the real impact will be" of the absence of Google News, he added.

Experts have estimated that the closure of Google News could lead to a drop in Internet traffic to Spanish news media sites of 10-30 per cent, the minister said.

The government argues access to information will not be affected in Spain because people can still access media sites directly or through other news aggregators.

In October a legal battle with German publishers forced Google to remove from its search results news snippets drawn from news sites.

One of those companies, Axel Springer, capitulated to Google weeks later, letting it post snippets free of charge. It said it could not resist Google's dominance in online news.

But the new law in Spain stipulates the right to be paid cannot be waived. The Spanish law does not specify how much news aggregators would have to pay to link to an article.

The Association of Spanish Newspaper Editors (AEDE), which called for the law, has appealed for Spanish and European authorities to find a solution.

It estimated last week that the closure of Google News "will without a doubt have a negative impact" and said it "always favoured negotiations".

"We are available to talk," AEDE director general Jose Gabriel Gonzalez told AFP. He said it was too soon to judge the impact of the closure of Google News.

"I don't know who must take the first step but what matters is that someone does it," he added.

Google has been sparring for years with several European countries over regulatory, commercial and copyright issues but the decision to close Google News in Spain is one of the heaviest blows to date.

Since 2010, Google has been under investigation by the European Commission over complaints that its search engine, the world's biggest, squeezes out competitors.

The company reached a deal with Belgian newspaper publishers in December 2012, resolving a six-year copyright battle that had blocked it from publishing links to local newspapers.

AFP

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