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Spain’s Launches ‘Google Tax,’ Attacks Piracy Linking Sites

Whether measures will have much practical impact is another question

MADRID –Spain’s government looks set to enable local news media to charge Google and other search machines for their publication of copyrighted content.

Announced Friday as part of long-awaited reforms to Spain’s Intellectual Property Law, the rapidly-dubbed “Google Tax” would authorize search engines to run “non-significant fragments” of news, said Spain’s education, culture and sport minister, Jose Ignacio Wert.

Spanish media would, however, have the right to “equitable remuneration for their use,” he added.

In further innovation to Spain’s long-anticipated Law, Spain’s center-right Popular Party government also announced fines of €30,000-€300,000 ($41,010-$410,100) for operators of linking sites directing end-users to infringing content. It also committed to speeding up its ineffectual Intellectual Property Commission (IPC), created for the notice and takedown of unauthorized material.

The new draft Intellectual Property Law comes only days after the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), a Washington-based trade assn. alliance, published its annual Special 301 Report, recommending that Spain should return to its Special 301 Watch List if copyright enforcement “fails to improve markedly in 2014.”

Hailed as a clamp-down by some sources – “a tough-stance against cultural piracy,” proclaimed influential Spanish newspaper “El Pais” – the draft law is seen as cop-out by others: “The IPL reform is just smokes-and-mirrors so that the U.S. doesn’t put Spain on the 301 blacklist,” tweated Pedro Perez, former president of Spain’s FAPAE producers assn.

Content aggregators and rights management entities will thrash out just how Google News and other aggregators will pay for fragments in the eight months after the IPL’s approval, said Jose Maria Lassalle, Spain’s secretary of state for culture.

Wert claimed Spain was a “pioneer” in charging Google for snippets. The move follows on multiple other initiatives launched against the Internet giant in Europe, however.  But whether Google will have to bite a large bullet remains open to question.

In Germany, a supposedly draconian “Lex Google” was watered down when approved March 2013, allowing Google News to publish descriptive snippets above news-links.

In Feb. 2013, Google settled with French publishers after the government had threatened to tax Google if it continued publishing French headlines and news snippets, establishing a €60 million ($82 million) Digital Publishing Innovation Fund. Google and French press assn. AIPG launched a call for projects in September, offering up to €2 million ($2.7 million) for online press projects.

Attacking linking sites – which usher users to unauthorized content on cyberlockers, BitTorrent networks, P2P networks and streaming sites – the Spanish government at least strikes at the heart of Spain’s piracy eco-system in the IIPA’s eyes.

“BitTorrent trackers and sites that index files on hosted servers are critical tools for users to locate infringing material: Without them, the scale of online piracy that occurs in Spain would not be possible,” the IIPA wrote in last week’s 2014 Special 301 Report.

“These indexes and trackers are also often the only point of attachment for the jurisdiction of Spain’s authorities, since they are frequently located within Spain, but they direct users to files located in other jurisdictions,” it continued.

The IPC could hardly work slower. Per Spain’s Coalition of Creators and Content Industries, cited by the IIPA, the IPC takes on average more than 400 days to initiate an investigation into a site after receiving a rights holder complaint.

Spanish piracy, meanwhile remains rampant. The Cocktail Analysis, a Madrid-based consultancy estimated that 87% of Spanish Internet users still file-share unauthorized content or download from illegal sites such as Mega and Rapidshare.

Many Spaniards counter that they have not been able to access content easily, quickly and at a reasonable price.

The robust recent success of pay TV giant Canal Plus’ YOMVI VOD site, – which now near day and dates U.S series with their Stateside bow and offers full seasons for binge viewing – would seem to bear them out.

YOMVI’s active users near doubled in four months, sky-rocketing 96% from July to November’s 546,996, per Arturo Guillen, Rentrak VP EMEA.

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