On July 23, the Associated Press set off a storm in the blogosphere by announcing a new scheme, a "registry" for tracking and protecting rights to its content. According to an AP press release, the new tracking system includes a "built-in beacon" alerting the news cooperative when its content is excerpted. The registry follows last year's unveiling of AP's automated licensing system, which asks non-members seeking to quote from one of its articles to run the quote through its hNews. (For more background on what microformats are and how to use them, see Blogher CE Virginia de Bolt's invaluable primer.) The hNews format includes data fields that are recognizable to any journalist, such as dateline, byline and copyright notice.
After bloggers denounced the thinking they inferred behind the AP plan and the claims made about the technology behind it, AP issued a said the AP was "becoming the enemy of the internet because it is fighting the link and the link is the basis of the internet." Michelle Malkin accused the AP of trying to "bully bloggers" and suggested that bloggers quoted by the wire service bill demand payment for use of their words.
Here's AP's information graphic describing how the program is designed to work:
Horje at eMediaOne said the diagram showed that AP doesn't understand the limits of its own technology. The metadata in the HNews format works well for some things, such as search engine optimization. However, horje argued, that metadata doesn't transfer when text is copied and pasted. In other words,AP's registry system, "is designed to detect unauthorized use under conditions a content thief would be unlikely to use."
Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing was less kind. Saying AP claimed it had established a "DRM system for news," he added,
"This is a seeming impossibility, and while there will always be DRM vendors with impossible magic beans to sell to any panicked goofball media dinosaur who'll buy them, it just seemed too weird to think that no one at the AP had said, 'Wait, what? This is dumb.'"
Doctorow recommends Dequed's "profane remix" of AP's diagram for a laugh.
Thankfully, Ryan Chittum from the Columbia Journalism Review also wondered whether AP was as dumb as the bloggers asserted they were. So, he asked them, eliciting a statement from Jane Seagrave, AP's senior vp for product development that they had not created a DRM system, and they were not targeting bloggers or commenters operating under fair use laws, and further:
"We want to stop wholesale misappropriation of our content which does occur right now - people who are copying and pasting or taking by RSS feeds dozens or hundreds of our stories."
What Chittum didn't ask, and what remains to be seen, is how AP's tracking system overcomes the technological limits that Horje and others have noted. Attributor, the company behind AP's text monitoring technology, offers a similar free service called "FairShare" that bloggers might want to try out. According to the FAQs for FairShare, the service "allows you to claim your work, watch how it spreads and learn how it is used across the web." (h/t Amy Gahran)
- Bloggers show power and organizational muscle with AP boycott - this 2008 battle might be a reason behind the organization's pledge not to target individual bloggers.
- Paid Content Debate About How, Not If -- Bill Mitchell at Poynter reports on Steve Brill's latest venture
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