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Google shutting down Google News in Spain

MADRID -- Google announced Thursday it will close Google News in Spain and block reports from Spanish publishers from more than 70 Google News international editions due to a new Spanish law requiring aggregators to pay to link content - a decision that will reverberate around the globe.

Google News in Spain will shut down on Dec. 16 - several weeks before a new Spanish intellectual property law takes effect on Jan 1 requiring news publishers to be paid.

That means people in Latin America, where Spanish news organizations have sought to boost their audiences, won't see news from Spain via Google News in Mexico or elsewhere. Also set to disappear are reports in English from Spanish publishers like Madrid's leading El Pais newspaper.

People who use Google's standard search in Spain and anywhere else around the world will still be able to find articles on their own from Spanish publications, because the law applies only to aggregators and not to individuals who do their own searches outside of Google News.

Richard Gingras, head of Google News, said the decision to close Google News in Spain was made "with real sadness."

Spain's AEDE association, which represents large news publishers, lobbied for the law nicknamed the "Google Tax." It declined comment Thursday on Google Inc.'s decision, which is the first shutdown since Google News was launched in 2006.

A spokesman for El Pais said the newspaper did not plan to issue any comment on Google's action but Spain's Culture Ministry characterized it as a legitimate business decision. The ministry also said the law doesn't apply to individuals and will protect the intellectual property of publications that spend money to create content without hindering freedom of information.

The law did not specify how much publishers would have to be paid by Google, but the company said Spain's law is much stricter than similar legislation enacted elsewhere because it mandates payments "for showing even the smallest snippets of their content - whether they want to charge or not." Google News doesn't generate revenue or show ads.

Google News has long irked newspaper publishers and other content providers who contend the service tramples on copyrights by creating a digital kiosk of headlines and story snippets gathered from other websites. Most criticism has likened Google to a freeloader, but there have been attempts to force the company to change its ways through the courts.

Google maintains it obeys all copyright laws while sending more people to websites highlighted in its News services. The company also allows publishers to prevent material from being displayed in Google News, an option few websites choose because the service is an important traffic source to sell ads.

Alejandro Tourino, a Madrid-based lawyer who specializes in media issues and has worked for The Associated Press on several legal cases, said Spanish news publishers may "have shot themselves out of the market. Time will tell."

After Germany revised its copyright laws last year to allow - but not force - Google News to make royalty payments, Google required publishers to give their consent for summarizing content. Most did.

Google last year agreed to help French news organizations increase their online advertising revenue and fund digital publishing innovations to settle a dispute over whether the company should pay for news content in its search results.

Google also had to respond to a ruling this year from Europe's highest court, which decided that people have a right to scrub unflattering or outdated information from Google's search engine. That case started in Spain.

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