Google plans to close its news-linking service in Spain yesterday in response to legislation under which publishers will soon be able to force internet sites to pay for re-publishing headlines or snippets of news.
In a statement, the search giant said the new law makes the Google News service unsustainable and that it will remove Spanish publishers from Google News sites worldwide, and shut down this service in Spain on 16 December. It also means readers in Latin America and around the globe will no longer find links to articles from any Spanish news publishers on Google News.
The change to the copyright law, which takes effect in January, only applies to news aggregation sites such as Google News or domestic rival Meneame. It does not prevent Google users in Spain or elsewhere from reading snippets of the same stories when they look up news in Google search results, where Google stands to capitalise by selling ads alongside news stories that turn up.
“The new law requires publishers to charge Google News for showing even the smallest snippets of their content – whether they want to charge or not,” the company said. Google News displays no adverts and makes no revenue from the service, it noted.
Google’s action caps a decade of acrimony with news publishers who blame the search giant for revenue and readership declines. The company maintains that it sends millions of clicks that allow news sites to make money via online advertising.
The stand-off also comes amid a growing campaign by politicians, regulators and courts across Europe to rein in Google’s power over the internet search market and the impact it has on deeply ingrained social norms around personal privacy.
The European Union’s recently installed digital commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, said in October that he was considering a regional internet copyright levy, taking aim at Google.
In recent years, publishers in countries such as Germany, France and Spain have pushed to pass new national copyright laws that force Google and other web aggregators to pay licensing fees when they publish snippets of their news articles.
In Spain and Germany, these laws require publishers who want their content to continue to show up in Google search results to give the company explicit permission to do so. Google has responded by requiring publishers to release it from any liability for licensing fees under such laws.
The Spanish law thwarts this by giving publishers an “inalienable” right to levy licensing fees. However, in November, Germany’s largest publisher, Axel Springer scrapped a bid to block Google after an experiment by 200 German publishers caused online traffic to plunge.
Internet search experts say the impact of the shutdown of Google News in Spain may be greater on smaller, less-well known news publishers than on name-brand news sites who are less reliant on the site to draw in readers.
For the top five Spanish news sites (ElPais.com, ElMundo.es, ABC.es, LaVanguardia.com and ElPeriodico.com), referrals from sites such as Google News are responsible for less than a quarter of traffic, ranging from 8 per cent for ABC to 21 per cent for La Vanguardia, according to online traffic measurement firm SimilarWeb. Social networks such as Facebook make up a smaller amount.