The lower chamber of the Spanish parliament has passed a controversial law, nicknamed the “Google tax,” which will allow members of the Spanish newspaper association to demand fees from aggregators such as Google News for posting links to their articles.
The legislation, which is likely to be passed by the upper house next month, targets internet news feeds which feature journalism that originates elsewhere and presents it to a wider audience.
The law is the latest in a series of similar initiatives by national legislatures in Europe, opening the possibility that the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, will follow suit with EU law.
The Spanish law, officially called Canon AEDE, means websites such as Reddit and Digg – what the new legislation calls “electronic news aggregation systems” — which provide users with an overview of links to news sources, could be forced by publishers to pay a fee for “listing a link and a meaningful description” of an article, according to Euractiv.
However, according to International Business Times, it is unclear how the Spanish government defines “meaningful description” and how much the tax will actually be (the fine for violating the law could be as high as €300,000 or $403,053, but one Spanish study estimated firms could eventually expect to pay millions of euros depending on the circumstances).”
The law creates an “inalienable right” (derecho irrenunciable) for editors to collect the levy.
Julio Alonso on medium.com says this is because of what happened when Germany passed a similar law in 2013 which forced Google to pay a levy to newspaper editors if their articles were included in Google News: “Google excluded all newspaper editors from Google News and asked anyone wanting to be listed to reapply explicitly declaring that they renounced to be compensated. All newspaper did reapply, not wanting to miss out on the traffic it generates. Google won.”
Now, by declaring the collection of the levy an “inalienable right,” if you are an aggregator, “you cannot decide not to charge Google News. It is compulsory. More than a right it is an obligation. Therefore, Google cannot exclude sites requiring payment from Google News. It would still need to pay for those it includes, even if they do not want to be compensated.”
Google has attempted to portray the levy as a clampdown on internet freedom, putting itself in a favourable light, a position boosted by the threat the California company will have “no choice” but to end its Google News service in Spain entirely.
But as International Business News points out, “the ongoing conversation also reminds Internet users about something the company would rather keep quiet: Google, like other Silicon Valley giants, pays virtually no taxes.”