July 25, 2009

AP takes a shot - - Shoots own foot

Associated Press announced a new policy Wednesday. CEO Tom Curley thinks he understands this Internet thing, and he is determined that his organization will get richer by exploiting the medium. But I think… probably not.

From the New York Times, July 24, 2009:

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Asked if that stance went further than The A.P. had gone before, he said, “That’s right.” The company envisions a campaign that goes far beyond The A.P., a nonprofit corporation. It wants the 1,400 American newspapers that own the company to join the effort and use its software.

“If someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and we’re going to do that,” Mr. Curley said. The goal, he said, was not to have less use of the news articles, but to be paid for any use.

That’s right folks; the AP (which, by the way, is a non-profit corporation) wants you to pay each and every time you quote an article in your blog, or even link back to one on the AP website.

The cluelessness is blinding.

Curley’s argument is that AP should be paid for any use of their product, no matter if only a link to the AP website, so they are taking the hard line that news articles should not turn up on blogs, search engines and Web sites without permission… and payment, The plan is to add some sort of software to each article published, which would display the AP’s version of applicable limits for use, inform the user of the required licensing agreement, and then phone home, telling the AP that the article has been used. Theoretically this would allow AP’s legal folks to file copyright infringement on scofflaws.

What they will actually be doing is consigning themselves to the dustbin of journalistic history. There is little doubt that this policy will produce a ripple effect on blogging, and the news aggregators like Hot Air and the Huffington Post will feel some effect, but what this action will not do is result in any additional revenue for AP. Instead the sphere will simply switch from AP to other reputable news organizations (Reuters, BBC), and the online newspapers.

"We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," says AP Chairman Dean Singleton. "We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it anymore."

The legal theory in question is far from misguided, and neither is it up to the AP to determine the meaning of “fair use.” This is a question that will be answered by the courts, and I can assure Mr. Singleton that the decisions will not go well for his organization. The practice of cutting bits and pieces from wire service articles for the purpose of reporting the news or linking to an article when offering commentary dates back practically forever, and has been blessed by the courts numerous times. This is perfectly legal under current interpretation of copyright law, and just because the AP doesn’t agree will not change a thing. The threat of legal action will, however, be effective and bloggers will simply avoid the content rather than risk the expense of a court battle.

And then there is the relevance issue. The Associate Press board is apparently not much of a history student. If they were, they might have remembered that attempts to charge casual readers for web content has been tried… and has failed. When the New York Times, in 2005, attempted to place portions of its content behind a firewall and charge a $49.95 subscription price for access, unique hits dropped from 17 million monthly to a few hundred thousand. The Times dropped the idea in 2007. The AP, by following a similar path, is fasttracking the oldest remaining U.S. wire service to the realm of irrelevance.

This is not about defining fair use,” said Sue A. Cross, a senior vice president of the group, who added several times during an interview that news organizations want to work with the aggregators, not against them. “There’s a bigger economic issue at stake here that we’re trying to tackle.”

This is about more than just the aggregators, and the AP is not working with anyone by attempting to deny use of content to bloggers, search engines and news aggregators. The AP is opening a can of worms that I’m sure they can’t imagine. Loss of readership and losses in courtrooms surely loom on the horizon, paralelled closely by loses in revenue.

The AP is shooting themselves in the foot.

See the AP press release HERE (Wonder if they'll charge me for this link?). The New York Times article is HERE, and an earlier article HERE. Joe Windish has a good evaluation on The Moderate Voice.


Anonymous said...

"The AP is shooting themselves in the foot."

Much better theirs than ours. May their aim be true!

Old NFO said...

Nah, they missed and shot about three feet higher... They will be history within a year if they actually try this. They are a niche market now, not timely for anything other than wire service. Their photographers are dying off and very few new ones are coming on because of the low pay. Just keep putting those nails in the coffin!