The latest salvo in the stormy relationship between the European Union and Google is coming from Spain, where lawmakers approved new intellectual property rules Thursday which would force Google and other content aggregators to pay a fee for using Spanish news sites.
The law, which made it through the country's lower chamber of Congress back in July, requires news feeds to pay for publishing links to their site — links which often include headlines, images, and text snippets. It's targeting heavyweight aggregator Google News in particular, and has been dubbed the "Google Tax"
The law was passed thanks to heavily lobbying from the AEDE, Spain's daily newspaper consortium, which accuses aggregators of stealing and unfairly profiting from its members' content. But this is only the latest attempt from E.U. publishers to tax Google.
Similar efforts by Belgium and France were settled outside of the legislature — Google agreed to funnel more money to the Belgian press in 2012, and in 2013 the company created an $80 million fund to help French publishers develop their digital presence.
But the "Google Tax" suffered defeat in Germany, where a group of news organizations tried to collect license fees from the company under a similar law. Google responded by pulling the outlets' links from Google News. Facing a substantial dip in traffic, the news sites dropped their demands and agreed to license parts of their content for free.
Spain managed to avoid that loophole by making content licensing an "inalienable right" — which means publishers can't opt out of the law. It's still not clear how much publishers will be able to charge Google for using their content.
Obviously, Google's not very happy with the new regulations. The company released a statement shortly after the law passed, saying, "We are disappointed with the new law because we believe services like Google News help publishers to bring traffic to their websites."
And the law has attracted its fair share of criticism online; several sites pointed out rules targeting Google could also be used to stifle content-sharing competition. The law also gives the government broad anti-piracy powers over websites, which many activists have likened to censorship.
Other European countries will be studying Spain's law closely to see if it works in restricting the Internet giant. E.U. regulators have long been seeking a way to break up Google's massive search monopoly in the region.
Europe's incoming digital commissioner Günther Oettinger recently suggested region-wide copyright rules similar to Spain's new law, saying, "If Google takes intellectual property from the EU and makes use of it, the EU can protect this property and demand that Google pay for it." The current commission office has downplayed those remarks.
Spain's new law is set to go into effect on January 1, 2015.