A new restrictive copyright legislation, ready to be passed into law in Spain, may very well hinder the interchange of ideas and render all Creative Commons and other copyleft licenses useless.
Known as the “Google Tax”, the law establishes that news aggregation sites (such as Google News, MenÃ©ame, Reddit, Digg, and others) should pay a levy if they reproduce even “non-significant fragments of aggregated content which are disclosed in periodic publications or on websites which are regularly updated”.
Such a levy would be collected by a private collection society (in the case of the press, AEDE), not by the creators themselves. So, even if you have no interest in cutting your own nose off by charging Google for linking to your site, the collection society will kindly cut it off for you, want it or not. Oh! And did we mention the levy is unwaivable? It doesn’t matter if you license your content under a generous CC or any other copyleft license, anybody in Spain who reproduces all or a piece of, say, your blog posts, will have to pay the tax, although it’s highly unlikely you, the author, will see a penny of the proceedings.
So, why is this happening? Well, all Spanish newspapers are haemorrhaging readers, consistently report revenue losses to the tune of millions of euros a year and many are already technically bankrupt. In 2012 alone, Spanish newspapers lost a joint 29 million euros, 10% of their readership and 15% in advertising revenue. This trend is doing nothing but accelerate.
Are news aggregators to blame? Probably not. In fact, up until now, anybody with half a brain thought news aggregator sites were good for the media, driving traffic up and adding value to news websites. The fact is, there are nearly no other countries in the world that have enacted anything similar (well, Germany has tried, but we’ll get to that in a minute). So it doesn’t seem so much a question of the press receiving their legitimately earned dues aggregators a “stealing” from them, as to desperately looking for extra revenue streams to compensate a dwindling readership.
The idea that law will compensate for these losses is laughable. What isn’t so funny is the chilling effect on the free dissemination of information it will have. Even more worrying is that it does not only affect negatively news aggregation sites, but also academic researchers, who again will not be able divulge their results freely, since a collector’s society for editors (notice the author does not even enter the equation), in this case CEDRO, will also charge a levy to the researchers and institutions on the receiving end, those who want to access papers and results written by their colleagues.
This will hinder research in a country that is already backward in all fields of scientific and technological endeavour, having severely cut back state funding to R&D and has no enterprise backed funding framework to speak of.
As for precedents, yes, Germany did enact a similar, albeit less draconian law, but it has proven impractical and unapplicable, since it was up to the creators themselves to pursue payment.
Here’s to hoping no other clueless politician gets into his thick skull the idea of trying to “improve” already extremely restrictive Intellectual Property laws.
If you would like to learn more, Paul Keller’s “Did Spain just declare war on the commons?” and Renata Avila’s “Spain on a Downward Spiral? New Law May Destroy the Digital Commons” give more background to this story.
Image licensed under CC BY-NC-SA from Washington & Jefferson College.