Lately we’ve talked a lot about Google’s woes in Europe. The Continent has pretty much decided that Google is too successful, and needs to pay up big time—particularly in Spain. But Google is fighting back, and so far seems to be winning.
Let’s start with the basics. As we discussed, a new Spanish law required Google to pay a fee to news companies every time it used their content in Google News, even just a snippet. Unlike a similar law in Germany, the Spanish one didn’t allow news sources to waive this fee; it was mandatory. Google’s response? It closed Google News Spain.
But that’s when things really heated up. Spanish lawmakers apparently didn’t expect such a strong response, and they hesitated. Neither lawmakers nor media companies actually want to get rid of Google, which brings them traffic; they just wanted a piece of Google’s pie. So an association of Spanish newsmakers has now asked the Spanish government to force Google News to stay open. You can almost hear Google laughing.
The legality of such a requirement is unclear, as is how Google might react to it. But one thing that has become clear is that Google wasn’t bluffing. Their December 16 close date arrived, and Google News Spain vanished from the web, to be replaced with a carefully worded apology note to Spanish users.
Then came Google’s most daring move of all.
- The “In the News” box. Just like in English-language Google, Spanish Google displays an en las noticias (In the News) box in normal search results. In other words, if recent news articles are relevant to your search term, they will be displayed without ever going to Google News.
- News Search. Also the same in both languages, users can run different kinds of Google searches. You can do a general search, or search for Images, Maps or, well, News. So if you search for “president obama sony interview” you can narrow it down to News results only—even in Spain, with results from Spanish media.
This is playing it very, very close to the line. Technically, Spain’s law was targeted directly at Google News as a service: a news aggregator that allows users to narrow down results by topic, essentially replacing online or offline newspapers with a free service. And Google has skirted the law by closing that service. But the spirit of the law was very clear: if you’re going to hand users snippets of media companies’ content, you need to compensate the publishers. And Google is thumbing its nose, handing out the same exact snippets, in easily searchable format, via a slightly different service.
No one knows how the Spanish government will react. What is clear, however, is that Google has scored three distinct victories: one when it declared it would close its news service, one when media companies begged to get the service back, and now another one by blatantly sidestepping the law.
Your move, Spain.
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