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Google and newspaper publishers must seek solutions to avoid doing damage to readers

In just a few years, advances in technology have helped the news media enjoy huge leaps. So much so, that it’s almost impossible to conceive of delivering information to readers these days without the powerful tools offered by the internet. The web gives news stories a global reach, and allows readers to access newspapers from all over the world with extraordinary speed, thanks to search engines such as Google, the company that has revolutionized the journalism industry. As such, its decision to remove Spanish publishers from Google News and to close this service is bad news for everyone: for media business owners and for users themselves. This is something that the bureaucrats who have been dealing with the issue in Spain and other parts of Europe do not seem to understand.

The main interest of both publishers and readers is to keep the internet accessible for all

The reasoning offered by the internet giant is the Intellectual Property Law, which was recently approved in Spain and recognizes the right of media outlets to receive “fair compensation” when fragments of their content are reproduced on news aggregators such as Google News. The Spanish legislation states that the charge is “unavoidable” – meaning publications cannot choose to opt out of the scheme – supposedly in a bid to protect smaller media firms. The idea was to avoid undermining the joint action of publishers, on the basis that only by speaking with a single voice could the sector stand up to Google.

But this was not the correct approach. As is the case in any sector dedicated to creation, publishers know that information is expensive and it is bad business to give it away. The multinational alleges that publications benefit from the traffic that is sent to their websites by the service, and that it does not generate profits for Google given that it does not have advertising. The route to reconciling both legitimate interests is not confrontation.

The technology firm has announced its intention to shut down Google News in Spain on December 16, two weeks before the law comes into force. This time should be used to negotiate. The Spanish association of publishers, the AEDE, came out in favor of this on Thursday and urged Spanish and European authorities to seek a solution. They are responsible for finding it, so that publishers don’t have to suffer the consequences of their incompetence. Like other media outlets, EL PAÍS has global editions, and so could be doubly affected by the measure.

The main interest of both publishers and readers is to keep the internet accessible for all. In the current times, there is no other way to conceive of freedom of information. The same battle in Germany saw the imposition of the thesis of conservative publisher Axel Springer: setting aside Google to the detriment of users. Justifying the defense used by the newspapers, the German government sided against the interests of readers. The Spanish government has just repeated the model with the same detrimental effect in terms of accessing news stories via the web. Any action by the authorities must be aimed at reconciling interests. On this occasion, with the aim of offering them protection, publishers themselves could end up seriously damaged.

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