Spain Passes Much-Debated Intellectual Property Law

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Critics complain of an unenforceable Google tax and missed opportunity for clear antipiracy law

After more than a year in the works, Spain passed on Thursday its Intellectual Property Law, with its hotly debated, so-called Google tax that allows for fines on aggregators that show snippets of content without paying for it.

The law, known as the LPI, will take effect January 2015 and allows for sanctions of up to $758,000 (€600,000) for linking to pirated content, including newspapers and Spanish publishers, who also try to protect their property rights.

Google reacted immediately to the law's passage.

"We are disappointed with the new law because we believe that services like Google News help publishers bring traffic to their sites. As far as the future is concerned, we will continue working with the Spanish publishers to help increase their revenues while we evaluate our options within the framework of the new legislation," a statement read. 

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Google is coming strong off a similar situation in Germany, where German publishers' demand for Google to pay for its links backfired, leaving newspapers with no traffic after the aggregator followed the German law to the tee and eliminated all links.

But even beyond the aggregator tax, the law that passed only with the ruling conservative party's votes in favor found little support further afield, with parliamentarians from other parties calling the measure "a disaster" and "a missed opportunity."

In addition to the controversy over the piracy links, critics of the law charge that the section on private copy damages their efforts to educate against piracy and fails to compensate financially for private copy.

Spain was forced to remove its digital canon — which generated a reported $113 million (€90 million) — when European and Spanish courts ruled it illegal and indiscriminate.

The government replaced it with $6.3 million (€5 million) earmarked in the General Budget for compensating rights holders. Intellectual Property entities say the government has determined the actual figure should be $23 million (€18 million).

Critics of the law argue that in addition to the confusion of including private copy in the law, the wording on what constitutes as piracy is "vague" and "weak," failing to offer a clear-cut definition to rule against sites that violate property rights.

Spain suffers rampant piracy, with an estimated 84 percent of digital downloaded content coming from unlicensed sources. Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador to Spain, James Costos urged Spain to protect intellectual property in order to promote a healthy environment for creators and job creation.

Additionally, Spain is altering its penal code to move more forcefully against copyright violation by closing down sites that link to illegal content.

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