Two weeks ago the lower chamber of the Spanish parliament approved a number of changes to Spain’s Intellectual Property Law that directly threaten the ability of Spanish internet users to contribute to the commons. The law introduces a number of modifications to copyright law that expand the scope of exclusive rights over areas that were previously outside of the exclusive rights of copyright holders at the expense of users rights and the public domain.
The main reason for this law seems to be the desire of Spanish newspaper publishers to get a legally guaranteed income stream from news aggregation sites. What is happening in Spain is a modification of the (largely failed) attempt by German news publishers to make news aggregators (such as Google News) pay for using small parts of news articles that they link to.
Compared to the German attempt, the Spanish approach is more elaborate, and more dangerous. While the German legislators simply created an ancillary right for press publishers and left it up to the publishers whether and how to enforce, waive or license the right, the Spanish law (English translation of the relevant bits here) approaches it from the user side of the equation:
Here, the law creates a right for ‘electronic content aggregation providers’ to use ‘non-significant fragments of aggregated content which are disclosed in periodic publications or on websites which are regularly updated’ without the permission of the rights holder. However such uses require payment of a ‘fair remuneration’ to the rights holder (via a collecting society). This is a right that content providers already have and can choose to license or waive assuming the non-significant fragments are copyrightable and absent an applicable exception or limitation. What this new legislation does is eliminate the ability of providers to choose how to exercise this right, and impose a mandatory royalty on reusers even for content that has been made available under a public license such as Creative Commons or that is otherwise available under an exception to copyright or in the public domain.