Google News Returning to Spain Ends 7 Year Standoff

Google News is returning to Spain. This ends a 7 year standoff over news snippets (AKA the link tax).

Google News is now returning to Spain. Spain passed a law ordering Google to pay news publishers for the privilege of sending traffic to those organizations for free. In 2014, Google responded by pulling Google News from the country. The reason, of course, is obvious. Paying for the privilege of sending traffic through linking is absurd. The results of that decision were felt very quickly. News publishers saw their traffic plummet and subscriptions quickly dried up. As those organizations became more starved for cash than ever before, they begged Google for the return of normal service.

That watershed moment provided everyone with a critical example of what happens when big publishers get too greedy. The news organizations effectively bit the hand that fed them and they payed the price for it. Not only did Spanish news organizations pay a steep price for their greed, it also effectively warded off the threat of other countries going down this road as well.

Of course, time wore on and memories of that moment began to fade. News organizations began to march down the road of repeating history. Of course, they also changed tactics and demanded governments around the world to band together and implement link tax laws internationally. The idea is that by instilling this law in every country, Google simply couldn’t just pull out of the country like they did in Spain.

Memories of that watershed moment still persisted. Commentators speculated that by pulling this stunt again, Google will simply discontinue its Google news service altogether. As a result, it painted a picture of the major publishers simply not learning from the mistakes of history. So, the first order of business is to rewrite that history by saying that news organizations didn’t feel any impact of Google News pulling out of Spain at all. By doing this, they were diminishing the critical impacts the decision actually had.

The next order of business in this international scheme was to find a country that was particularly anti-technology. One of those countries they began to push this link tax heavily onto was Australia. It wasn’t a bad choice given that Australia was fresh off of banning encryption, and, as a result, sent innovation and investment on a massive exodus out of the country. So, if lawmakers in that country were dumb enough to do that, then maybe they would be dumb enough to implement a link tax on top of it all.

As word of the link tax spread, big publishers then took their link tax push onto the road. Along with France, they also began to push the link tax in Canada. The political timing, of course, was quite good. After all, Canada’s Liberal party is quite famous for their corruption. Because of this, corporations know that they will listen to lobbyists far more than they will listen to their constituents – and a little money to grease the wheels certainly doesn’t hurt either. After the last government tried to push for a link tax through notorious then Heritage Minister, Steven Guilbeault, it compelled Facebook to warn Canada to not repeat the Australian mistake.

With the ways event were unfolding, it seemed like a very safe bet that large tech companies would, in fact, follow through on their threats and pull news services from those respective countries.

To almost everyone’s shock, it wasn’t a safe bet.

Google then made the stunning decision to cave to Australia’s link tax by unveiling the Google News Showcase service. Others gradually started following suit as the large tech companies began inking deals with big publishers in various countries. The collective reaction for observers is, “what the **** are you doing?” Some then began to conclude that this was a horrible mistake on Google’s part given that other countries are going to follow suit and demand that Google pay up.

This left observers scrambling to come up with an explanation as to why the likes of Google and Facebook would suddenly surrender despite effectively holding so many cards. Eventually, the conclusion was that this decision to give up is actually a power play. Specifically, by inking these deals and setting the precedent that you need to pay for the privilege of linking, you ensure that the likes of Google and Facebook would get further entrenched in their hugely powerful positions. In short, it cements their position some consider a monopoly on certain aspects of the Internet. Of course, by doing this, it also inspired the tech giants to throw the rest of the Internet under the bus whenever more idiotic ideas crop up.

Earlier this month, Google announced that Google News will be returning to Spain. They cite the passage of Europe’s copyright directive as the reason:

In 2014, we closed Google News in Spain due to local legislation. Today, we’re announcing that Google News will soon be available once again in Spain. We made this decision as a result of a new Royal Decree implementing the European Copyright Directive, introduced today by the Spanish government.

This is good news for readers in Spain. Starting early next year, Google News will provide links to useful and relevant news stories, from a wide range of sources, to help people in Spain find more information about current events and to dive deeper into those stories. Moreover, Google News helps people get more information from more news sources; a key tool in the fight against misinformation. For journalists and publishers, Google News helps them be discovered by more readers and generate valuable free traffic.

Techdirt notes that the Spanish link tax is technically worse than the copyright directive in that the copyright directive dials down the Spanish link tax from compulsory to optional. So, that could very well be a factor in getting back into Spain again.

If anything, this whole saga showcases how efforts to “reign in” big tech wound up further cementing their positions as dominant players. The end result is that the rungs got sawed off, preventing potential new players from entering into the arena. While the likes of Google and Facebook can easily take the financial hit, the long run is that no one else in the market has a chance at challenging their dominance.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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