AP: Good tracking initiative, crazy licensing idea

Source: Google News

Source: Google News

Give Associated Press President Tom Curley credit for grabbing people’s attention.

A New York Times story today quotes him stating that online references to AP stories containing as little as a headline and a link require a licensing agreement.

The interview follows AP’s announcement Thursday that it will begin a two-pronged approach to tracking sites that re-use AP content. The first initiative will be to include new metadata in news stories to identify key attributes of the story such as the author, the placeline and usage rights attached to it. The second will be to maintain a registry of stories and use software to track the content across the Internet. The goal is “to be paid for any use.”

Calling the registry a “declaration of war,” Erik Sherman calls the move “so stupid, so clearly self-damaging that you have to wonder whether someone inside the corporation is trying to torpedo it.”

Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg chimes in, calling the effort “foolish and self-defeating.”

Most observers have focused on Curley’s comment concerning licensing for short chunks of text. But, in the Times article, Curley was coy as to how AP would go about enforcing its claims, adding, “We’re not picking the legal remedy today … Let’s define the scope of the problem.”

The prospect of suing people en masse for refusing to send money is indeed crazy. Curley’s claim would seem to ignore provisions of fair use in the American copyright act, not to mention the nature of the Internet. His intimation of enforcement would suggest he hasn’t learned much from the American recording industry’s efforts.

A story by the Nieman Lab’s Zachary M. Seward states that the New York Times’ top lawyer himself doubts aggregation is a copyright issue. Even if it is, as Google deftly pointed out to testy European publishers last week these companies can easily remove themselves from most aggregators’ reaches. Rosenberg argues in an excellent post that the real danger is the issue will end up in court where a judicial ruling could narrow the definition of American fair use provisions in its copyright act.

Too bad AP botched its PR on this.

There is actually much to admire in AP’s efforts. It’s the first major news organization to make a serious effort at tracking the use of its stories on the Internet. AP says it is using copyright-protection software made by Attributor Inc., which offers a Google Analytics-type interface for “finding copies of your content in near real-time.”

The company states, interestingly, that 30-40% of the excerpts it tracks fail to contain a referring link. That in itself indicates value in tracking egregious copyright violations and raising public awareness.

Update: Comment from AP on all the coverage

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