This article is more than 1 year old
Spanish scraper scrapped: Google axes Google News
Is that copyright levy still a good idea, Herr Oettinger?
+Comment Google will close its Google News service in Spain next week, rather than pay newspapers for news excerpts.
Spain recently revamped its copyright law and the changes take effect (PDF, Spanish) on 1 January. Law-makers threw newspapers a bone: the right to be remunerated by news aggregators.
According to academic Eleonora Rosati, writing at the IP Kat blog, the law is spectacularly clumsy: publishers who want to appear in Google News can't waive the right to a fee.
Google responded that, "as Google News itself makes no money (we do not show any advertising on the site) this new approach is simply not sustainable."
But this isn't quite true. Google doesn't run advertisements directly alongside the news stories, but its use of other people's stuff is highly profitable for Google, the company has admitted in the past. In 2008 Marissa Meyer (now CEO at Yahoo!) described Google News as "a $100m search referral engine".
Last year, Germany introduced something similar. The "Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverlege" (or "Lex Google") granted publishers an ancillary right in the German Copyright Act that forbade aggregators from displaying excerpts without paying a fee. Google refused, and made the German Google News "opt in" to avoid paying the fee. Some major magazine and newspaper publishers refused, effectively boycotting the service. Then, one by one, they returned. The final hold-out, giant Axel Springer, finally caved in a month ago.
CEO Mathias Doepfner said the Axel Springer would have "shot itself out of the market" if had continued to boycott Google News. Last year Doepfner confessed in a must-read open letter (PDF) that "we are afraid of Google", given its total market domination of search advertising, and suggested that Google is building "a kind of superstate that can navigate its floating kingdom undisturbed by any and all nation-states and their laws".
New European Commissioner Günther Oettinger is reportedly sympathetic to extending the levy concept Europe-wide. But opposition to the levy comes not just from Google, but even from some rights-holders themselves.
Speaking on a panel alongside your correspondent in London this week, a lawyer said the concept was "a terrible one" because it discouraged primary licensing - which was the whole point of intellectual property. "It's a tax", he opined.
The argument against levies is a fundamental one: copyright exists to encourage trade. If, instead of trading and market building, rightsholders sit around and lobby government for handouts, then they are no less parasitic than quangos or certain academics – or, in the modern jargon: "Troughers".