Who should get paid when big tech platforms aggregate news stories? This was the question that prompted Google to shut down its Google News platform in Spain in 2014, after the country decided the US tech giant should cough up a monthly fee to Spanish papers. Today, though, Google announced that Google News will return to Spain “early next year” after the country overhauled its online copyright laws in line with EU regulation.
The big difference from Google’s point of view is that it no longer has to pay a fee to Spain’s entire media industry and can instead negotiate fees with individual publishers. Some may want to charge Google for sharing stories in Google News, and Google can pay them or exclude them, depending on its preference. Other outlets will no doubt waive these fees, judging that the traffic offered by Google News outweighs any lost advertising revenue.
Google says it’ll be working in the coming months with publishers “to reach agreements which cover their rights under the new law.” But just try to guess which side of the bargaining table will have the upper hand. Will it be lone newspaper outlets, struggling against plummeting revenues and industry-wide change? Or will it be the international megacorp that’s one of the most profitable companies in the world? Anyone?
Really, though, the return of Google News to Spain is just a single skirmish in a long running battle between Europe’s media industry and Big Tech. The former complains that the internet has undermined its business model, and that profits from this new economy have been hoovered up by Google and its kin. The latter reply, “oh well, yeah, I guess so, sorry about that,” and throw some of their megabucks at various “sustainable journalism” initiatives. It’s not exactly been a happy solution, particularly for media companies.
To try and rebalance the playing field, many countries have passed or toyed with legislation similar to Spain’s in recent years, including Germany and Belgium. In 2019, these efforts were folded into an EU-wide reform of online copyright law known as the Copyright Directive.
If you remember this legislation at all, it’s probably for its so-called “upload filter,” a provision which, in its worst reading, requires tech platforms to check all data uploaded to their sites against copyrighted work. (The difficulty of actually implementing this provision is helpfully illustrated by the fact that the EU Commission is currently suing its own members for failing to do so.) However, the Copyright Directive also dealt with payments to media companies for use of their content, and it’s this part of the legislation — which Spain recently adopted into national law — that has ultimately led to the return of Google News.
It’s far from the only attempt by countries to give more power to their ailing but vital news industries. In 2020, Google announced new payments to publishers in Germany, Australia, and Brazil, and earlier this year signed a similar deal with French papers (also in response to the EU Copyright Directive). Such agreements will no doubt continue to be passed and then superseded as the news industry changes and evolves.