In a decision that will reverberate around the globe, Google announced Thursday it will close Google News in Spain and block reports from Spanish publishers from more than 70 Google News international editions due to a new Spanish law requiring aggregators to pay to link content.
Google News in Spain will shut down on Dec. 16 — several weeks before a new Spanish intellectual property law takes effect Jan. 1 requiring news publishers to be paid.
That means people in Latin America, where Spanish news organizations have sought to boost their audiences, won't see news from Spain via Google News in Mexico or elsewhere. Also set to disappear are reports in English from Spanish publishers like Madrid's leading El Pais newspaper.
People who use Google's standard search in Spain and anywhere else around the world will still be able to find articles on their own from Spanish publications, because the law applies only to aggregators and not to individuals who do their own searches outside of Google News.
The decision by Google Inc. is the first shutdown since Google News debuted as an experimental project in 2002.
Richard Gingras, head of Google News, said the decision was made “with real sadness” because Google News is “a service that hundreds of millions of users love and trust, including many here in Spain.”
Spain's AEDE association, which represents large news publishers, had lobbied for the law nicknamed the “Google Tax” and said that Spaniards and Spanish businesses will suffer as a result of Google's decision.
AEDE said the full impact of the move that will make news produced by Spanish media vanish globally will only become known after the shutdown but added that the law was needed to “effectively protect the rights of citizens and businesses.”
A spokesman for El Pais said the newspaper did not plan to comment on Google's action and the publishers of three other large Spanish newspaper groups also declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
Spain's Culture Ministry characterized Google's move as a legitimate business decision. The ministry also said the law doesn't apply to individuals and will protect the intellectual property of publications that spend money to create content without hindering freedom of information.
The new law did not specify how much publishers would have to be paid by Google or other aggregators, but the company said Spain's law is much stricter than similar legislation enacted elsewhere because it mandates payments even if publishers don't want them because they get traffic via Google News.
“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,” Gingras wrote in a blog. “As Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable.”
Google News has long irked newspaper publishers and other content providers, who contend the service tramples on copyrights by creating a digital kiosk of headlines and story snippets gathered from other websites. Most criticism has likened Google to a freeloader, but there have been attempts to force the company to change its ways through the courts.
Google maintains it obeys all copyright laws while sending more people to websites highlighted in its News services. The company also allows publishers to prevent material from being displayed in Google News, an option few websites choose because the service is an important traffic source to sell ads.
Alejandro Tourino, a Madrid-based lawyer who specializes in media issues and has worked for The Associated Press on several legal cases, said Spanish news publishers may “have shot themselves out of the market. Time will tell.”
After Germany revised its copyright laws last year to allow — but not force — Google News to make royalty payments, Google required publishers there to give their consent for summarizing content. Most did.
Google last year agreed to help French news organizations increase their online advertising revenue and fund digital publishing innovations to settle a dispute over whether the company should pay for news content in its search results.
The French news agency Agence France Presse sued Google for copyright infringement in 2005, a move that culminated in Google agreeing to a licensing agreement with AFP for an undisclosed amount. The Associated Press, another critic of Google News' tactics, reached a licensing agreement with Google in 2006.
Now Google no longer licenses material from AFP, AP or any other news service.
Google also had to respond to a ruling this year from Europe's highest court, which decided that Europeans have a right to scrub unflattering or outdated information from Google's search engine that pops up in a search of their names. That case started in Spain.
Under the new “Right to be Forgotten” rule, the company as of September had received more than 120,000 requests to take down 457,000 links. Google did not say at the time how many requests had been approved.