Google News to close up shop in Spain in response to new law

The so-called "Google tax" requires aggregators to pay a fee for posting links and excerpts of news articles. Google says it can't afford the expense.

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Google plans to shut down Google News in Spain in response to a new law that requires payment for links to content. CNET

Google plans to discontinue offering Google News in Spain in response to newly passed legislation that imposes fees on content aggregators for using local publishers' content.

The search giant announced in a company blog post late Wednesday that it will disable the service and remove Spanish publishers from Google News on December 16 before a new copyright law takes effect in January. The announced closure is the latest skirmish in the long-running war between Google and European newspaper publishers.

The so-called "Google tax," which was passed in October, requires aggregator services that post links and excerpts of news articles to pay a fee to the Association of Editors of Spanish Dailies, an organization that represents the Spanish newspaper industry. Failure to do so could result in fines up to €600,000 ($750,000).

"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," Richard Gingras, head of Google News, wrote in the post. "As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable."

Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst at digital-rights advocate Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a blog post that "it is hard to see what value this has achieved for the press in Spain or for Spanish (and Spanish speaking) Internet users."

The EFF is also concerned about the "broader trend" of the erosion of the right to link. Another part of the new Spanish law, for example, places "criminal liability on website operators who refuse to remove mere links to copyright-infringing material," Malcolm said. Part of the same trend is the "right to be forgotten" rule in Europe, Malcolm noted.

"It's time for Europe to turn back from this misguided path of Internet content regulation before more damage to the open Internet is done," he said.

Other European countries have pursued similar fees from Google in recent years with mixed results.

Germany passed legislation last year that allows publishers to charge search engines and aggregators for using any content beyond headlines, but Google asked publishers to opt in without requiring the fee, which some did. After a two-week experiment, German news giant Axel Springer scrapped a plan last month to restrict Google access to some of its content when traffic to its sites plummeted, according to Reuters.

In 2012, Google settled a legal dispute with Belgian newspaper publishers that accused the search giant of copyright infringement over its practice of linking to French- and German-language Belgian newspapers. After Belgium courts sided with a Belgium newspaper publisher and ordered Google to remove the links in 2011, the Web giant agreed to partner with the publishers on a range of initiatives to increase their revenue, including paywalls and subscriptions.

A Google representative said the company was "incredibly sad" to announce the closure of Google News in Spain but said the fee was unsustainable because the company derives no revenue from Google News.

"Despite these changes, we'll continue to work with Spanish publishers to help them increase their readership and revenues online," a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

Read CNET Espanol's take on the development here.

Updated at 5:30 a.m. PT December 11 with comment from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.