Google launches new Europe battle in Spain pay row

[MADRID] US online giant Google plunged into a fresh battle in Europe on Thursday, scrapping its popular online news service in Spain in protest at being made to pay for content.

Following a series of disputes across the European Union, the US giant threw its heaviest punch yet, saying it would shut down Google News Spain on December 16.

The move was in response to an intellectual property law coming into force in Spain in January that will oblige Internet news-gatherers to pay to reproduce content drawn from other websites.

The Spanish culture ministry said it would press ahead with enforcing the law, insisting it "does not obstruct freedom of information".

"Access to news on the Internet will still be guaranteed as it can be found via the news organisations' own websites or web searches," it said in a statement.

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.

Users of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are not subject to the law and will not be charged for linking to news content on their pages, it added.

Google has been at odds for years with European countries over regulatory, commercial and copyright issues.

European courts have ordered it to delete old search results about people at their request - the so-called "right to be forgotten".

That order also originated in Spain, where regulators first upheld a complaint by a man demanding Google delete out-of-date legal details about him that were displayed in search results.

The EU's new anti-trust regulators have asked Google's rivals for fresh information before taking forward a four-year probe into Google's activities, competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Thursday.

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

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 for free. It said it could not resist Google's dominance in online news.

The Spanish law aims to prevent news companies giving into Google that way by obliging them to charge it for reproducing their content.

"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," Google News director Richard Gingras wrote.

"As Google News itself makes no money... this new approach is simply not sustainable." Analysts warned Spanish media would suffer.

"It is a disaster for the digital media in Spain," said Fernando Cano, editor of the online media journal PR Noticias.

"It was the traditional Spanish media that asked for this - the print newspapers that have online editions. But it affects everyone." He estimated Spanish news organisations could lose 30 per cent of their online hits, which would hurt their advertising revenue.

Users will no longer be able to access many articles in Spanish via Google's news page, which accounts for "a big percentage" of online traffic to Spanish media, said Enrique Dans, an expert at Madrid's IE Business School.

Those affected will include masses of readers in Latin America, said Dans. He branded the Spanish media establishment that lobbied for the law "dinosaurs".

"They do not understand the Internet and of course they are the ones who have been losing the most money for years," he told AFP.


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