I am not a lawyer.
I don’t understand well some of the legal aspects currently being discussed under the copyright reform in Europe.
However, I do have a strong opinion about this law. I have suffered the consequences of a bad copyright law being approved in my country.
The other day, my youngest daughter asked me:
Dad, what’s a law?
I told her that laws are norms (like the ones mum and dad set up at home) that help good things happen and avoid bad things from happening.
On October 30th 2014, the “Google Tax law” was approved in Spain. This law applied a tax to websites that linked to external content.
This law does not fit in well with the definition I gave my daughter about what’s a law…
The Google Tax law is not a good law.
It’s a terrible law.
It avoids good things from happening and doesn’t do any good to anyone.
As a Spanish and European citizen, my plea to the European legislators is that they avoid similar laws from being approved in other European countries.
If the copyright reform pushes back the Google Tax law that was approved in Spain earlier this year, it will do a great service to Spanish citizens.
No one will lose.
Let me explain how this law affected our young start up and all parties involved.
In March 2014, MiWebdeNoticias.com was officially launched in Spain.
MiWebdeNoticias (MWN) was a niche news aggregator service that gathered high quality news and content around a very specific topic that our clients wanted to cover. It was like Google News but centered around specific industries and controlled by companies present in those industries.
For example, one of our customers was a Spanish Alzheimer Association. MWN gathered the highest quality content about this disease.
Through the service, visitors could find the latest news about Alzheimer or search specific news through the search function. It saved them lots of time to find relevant information.
News were gathered automatically. Non relevant and bad content was filtered out. The best content was highlighted. Moderators could manually delete or add news. Our customers shared this news publicly with their customers and an interested audience.
From each news, MWN gathered:
- The title
- A small excerpt of text (about 30-40 words)
- An image (thumbnail size)
- Quantitative data of the popularity of each news
- A link to the original article
MWN benefited all parties involved
Our customers benefited because they owned a site with the best content about their niche they could make available to anyone interested in the topic. They valued that MWN aggregated high quality niche content scattered around the web, put it together in the same place and made the sharing of it really easy.
Visitors to the specific MWN site valued the quality of the content and the convenience. They could find the content they were most interested in really easily.
The news sources (aggregated content) valued that MWN sent them very high quality traffic of people really interested in their content. Their news were shared by visitors. It was a great platform to get their content found and promoted by an interested audience.
Everyone won. No one lost. All parties benefited from this service.
When we launched MWN, the Google Tax law was already being discussed in Spain. However, we believed that it was never going to be approved. We thought that Google would reach a similar agreement with AEDE (the Press Association that promoted the approval of this law) as they had in other countries (France, Germany, Belgium) were similar laws had been discussed.
Unfortunately we were wrong.
The moment this law was approved, we lost 3/4 ths of the customers we had gained during the preceding few months. None of the customers who were testing the service became customers. They were afraid of being charged a tax of an unknown quantity.
From one day to the next, our promising future, turned really dark.
Due to this situation, we had to step back and reconsider what to do. We had built a service that was good for everyone. We found customers interested in it and were doing a public service.
This was not enough.
Those were really hard times.
If we wanted to survive, we had to do some major changes.
This is what we did:
- Since we could not sell this service in Spain, we decided to go international two years before our original plan.
- We had to drastically lower our prices to follow a different business model.
- Due to this copyright issue, we were not sure anymore if a similar law was going to be approved in other countries. We could not take such risk. We changed the nature of our main service from publicly available niche news aggregation to newsletter curation. On our main service, aggregated news would not be shown publicly. Only certain links would be shared through newsletters.
- We rebranded the product from MiWebdeNoticias.com to NewsletterBreeze.com
- We went back to consulting. We needed to bring in money to fund the international launch.
The result of all this is NewsletterBreeze.com.
If you check this 2 minute video, you’ll see (from second 12 to second 52) the news section of what we now display only to admins. At MWN, the news section was shared publicly.
Our View about the new Copyright reform being discussed in the EU.
Information is the basis of progress. Sharing relevant information is also the greatest advantage of the internet. News aggregator services (like ours) do a great job of sharing the right information with the right people, doing them a great service.
News aggregator services also do a great service to the aggregated publications. It sends them really high quality traffic of people interested in their content.
I do not understand how a link and a small excerpt of text can harm any online publication. I understand it can only bring them good things. That’s my experience. None of the sites whose news we aggregated ever told us “please do not promote our publicly available content to people interested in such content”.
If they had, we would have removed them from the service.
I would like to ask the Spanish Government who approved the Google Tax Law …
Who did our service harm?
I bet they cannot give a good answer to this simple question.
What happened after the approval of the Google Tax law confirms that this was a terrible law:
- Google News was shutdown in Spain. Citizens who were using this service cannot use it anymore.
- Spanish publications linked from Google News lost part of their traffic and revenue.
- Companies like ours who provided a good service to customers and citizens had to retire it from the market.
- No money was collected.
Has this law benefited anyone?
I’d love to know …
I hope that the new European copyright reform bears in mind that services that provide a good service to society and do not harm anyone should not only be allowed but enforced.
At one time, I was really naïve when I thought the Google Tax law would not be approved in Spain.
I hope I am not naïve again when I think that European legislators will push a European copyright reform that makes sense in the digital world. A law that helps good things happen and avoids bad things from happening.
I hope so.