On February 14th, a council of ministers passed a reform on the copyright laws in Spain. According to the reform, content aggregators including Google News, Yahoo News, Bing News and Spain’s famous Menéame would have to depart from part of their income in favor of the original content publishers. As for now it is uncertain how, at what percentage and when this tax will be effective. Google alone is supposed to have had a publicity income in Spain during 2013 close to US$ 50 million and with perspectives to increase by 14% its turnover in 2014.
I had long planned to interview David de Ugarte, father to the Spanish cyberpunk culture and author of “El Poder de las Redes” (The Power of Networks) and many other books, all available for free download. Now that I finally had an opportunity and a subject, it was time to find out how the recently approved taxation of news aggregators would – if at all – help online newspapers out of their revenue problem. It would also be an opportunity to learn how David sees such an imposition shocking itself against one of the last boundaries of the internet – the free hyperlink deployment.
It is not possible to cite Ugarte and ignore his influence over cyber activism, and its ideal of a free flow of information and knowledge. For those who are not acquainted to Ugarte’s work, I’d like to suggest to start off with “El Poder de las Redes”. Ugarte thinks the digital age over a canvas of historical, social and political background, as you’ll find out in the course of this interview.
One of the key aspects of the new law of intellectual property (LPI) is the pursuit to links leading users to copyright protected material. Fines for sites linking to such material range from 10,000,00 Euros a day up to 150,000,00 Euros. To the eyes of many (this law is not very popular even in Spain) to hunt down linking websites harms the free circulation of information over the web, jeopardizes the access to knowledge on the readers perspective and conflicts tremendously with one of Ugarte’s key perspectives in his book “El Poder de las Redes” – where David analyzes the dynamics of decentralized information flow. According to this model, the failure of one channel doesn’t harm the flow of data due to the presence of additional peers acting as a distribution point from which the information can be gathered.
“I think we hadn’t had the time to understand how deeply the link-culture has changed our way of thinking and how it has been molding our contemporary understanding of both creative process and ‘intelligence’”, says Ugarte.
To him, such a law is a huge evolutional throwback. “This law puts us 20 if not 200 years behind in history. From now on there will be two kinds of content: the one kind you can refer to without being afraid – yours, and the other kind of nearly untouchable content, belonging to the official voices. Google’s algorithm itself was based upon the principle of linking as one of the most important signs of relevance. To Ugarte the voice of where, why and when to embed a link within web content is in itself a highly intimate, subjective decision.
“…this same idea, that content classification and ordination are both subjective instances which depend exclusively on the author’s choice illustrates one of modernity’s high points opposing to the scholasticism model of thinking from the medieval times. It was the birth of a new world, postmodernity had arrived”, says Ugarte, to whom linking should be a protected right and should be understood as essential to our post-cold-war culture.
A little off-topic. But I can’t refrain from asking how Ugarte sees the Big Data idea when thinking about informational hyperlinking as a subjective phenomenon.
“To me, Big Data is modernity’s ultimate expression. It is terminal modernity. That what Foucault would allude to as a kingdom being an extension of the king’s body has become a huge volume of data being centralized by a handful of very powerful corporations and another handful of governments. As a result, what we see is an ongoing bio political experiment in the ways Louis XIV or even Stalin could only dream of.
The www takeover
Ideally, actions such as this copyright reform in Spain should be organized among all involved parts. From ISPs over to website administrators, content aggregators, readers and original content producers/syndicators, everyone should be envolved.
But this is not how it happened. For a very long time web access in third world countries was a luxury item and broadband at home became reality not ten years ago in countries such as Brazil. How did corporations take over the internet during our absence and not leaving users the chance to decide how things should evolve?
To David this happened during the 90′s. “The first attempt to take over the web occurred in the 90′s whit what would become known as the dotcom-bubble. It bursted because people hadn’t understood its fundamentals. Ever since both political and economic universes have been switching strategies between adapting themselves to demands and pushing demand to adapt to the new rules as they did when they forced legislation to change”, he says.
A solution in the long run?
One doesn’t take long to come across articles stating the downfall of the online news organizations and offering “Ten Tips to make your News Site Profitable Again”. In the eyes of those who invented the news aggregators tax and the reform of intellectual property (LPI) in Spain, charging search engines for third party content usage is a suitable way out the crisis. But no to the eyes of David de Ugarte, who establishes a revenue-based comparison between those aggregators generating page views to news sites and the news sites.
“In a conversation I had with the Menéame founder, he said that his site would make a 0,22 cent (euros) profit over 1,000 ad prints, whereas newspapers would be making close to 4 euros per 1,000 ad prints – this makes Menéame a gateway that generates over 20 times more profit then it makes itself. I’ll say it in capitals: What This Law Attempts to Do Is a Direct Profit Transfer From News Aggregators To Media Groups. Is this really necessary? Is this what they seek?
I let Ugarte know that it resembles selling 2 thousand maybe 3 thousand subscriptions to the content; it is a business model.
“So the same people who pay to get traffic from paid sources are asking Digg, Menéame and news aggregators to pay them for generating visits? Isn’t this crazy?”, he asks.
“Let’s assume that Menéame, Google News and other affected traffic generating aggregators stop linking to news-organizations’ websites. Let’s imagine each and every blog not linking anymore to any news site. What’s the outcome to these corporations? Not much, aside loss of traffic and revenue”, says David.
What if – I
What would happen if such a law hits social networks? What if they were forced to pay for displaying third party content?
“It would be on step further towards irrelevance of monopolistic media empires, driven forth by corporate greed”, says Ugarte.
What if – II
What if not every news aggregator can keep up paying the news producers? To David de Ugarte, some aggregators will pay as he urges others to seek out alternative sites to link to.
“Google News will surely pay. On the other hand I hope and suggest the rest of the web not to go along with such an imposition and find alternative sites to link to. Meneame and other related sites should ignore big organizations’ sites who have been founding this law”, says David de Ugarte.
More Ugarte’s books free to download:
El Poder de las Redes - http://lasindias.com/el-poder-de-las-redes
Das Nações às Redes - http://lasindias.com/de-las-naciones-a-las-redes
Los Futuros que Vienen - http://lasindias.com/los-futuros-que-vienen