The tanks are massing at the borders. The officers are drawing up “rules of engagement”. Soldiers are “rattling their sabres”. When times are hard, empires go to war. And so in the coming months we can expect to see “the web’s news cop” The Associated Press ignore the lessons of history and declare war against their perceived enemies.
The AP’s announcement yesterday that it will police the web for what it sees as “illegally” published content is so worrying, on so many levels, that I will struggle to cover everything here.
So tell me if I’ve missed anything.
Content as commodity
“The content is ours and we can do anything with it we choose to do with it. If it’s in our best interest to give it away, we will give it away. If it’s in the best interest to charge, we will charge.” – Dean Singletone, chairman of the AP board, to PaidContent.
But what do they mean by their content? From TechCrunch:
“The A.P. has a broad view of what constitutes its content. It is not just entire articles copied wholesale by spam blogs. The A.P. has problems with the unauthorized use of its headlines, even when they include links. Many of its policies ignore the concept of fair use. And even when it has cause to go after copyright violators, it sometimes relies on antiquated and tortuous legal theories. The A.P. is so backwards in its thinking that we’ve banned links to all of its stories on TechCrunch.”
Indeed, Singleton seems to see contemporary law as “misguided”: “We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories,” he says in an AP statement.
PaidContent are one of the good guys, and even they’re worried:
“We get along fairly well with AP when it comes to using the news service in our own reports. We link to stories on member or client sites, usually with attribution and without wholesale quoting. We ask directly for artwork when there’s something we’d like to use in a news story, as was the case with the photo accompanying this post. So I was a little taken aback when I asked Singleton what would happen to sites like ours: “I’ll leave that to the rules of engagement that we’ll be developing” in coming weeks. Not “we’re not after sites like yours” or “we’re looking at flagrant violators.” And no sign at all that AP will be reaching out beyond its members for input.”
Apart from appointing themselves judge and jury over what is legal (with partners such as Google acting to execute whatever action is deemed appropriate) there is the small matter of news and journalism having wider political, cultural and social value. By seeing a link as illegal, you are effectively curtailing conversation around – and awareness of – key issues.
Bleeding the old business model dry rather than trying new ones
Another thing so wrong with AP’s imminent war footing is that it is so strategically flawed.
AP are relatively unusual in that they are a news organisation which does actually make money from content, rather than just believing that’s what they do.
The AP’s member organisations, however, make money primarily from advertising. To sell advertising you need an audience, and to get an audience you need a distribution strategy.
Pursuing your distributors for alleged copyright infringement is not a distribution strategy.
Meanwhile, users may begin to realise just how easy it is to source your content for free from its source (which, by the way, you don’t link to. Did someone mention legal action?)
It also, as others have pointed out, contributes nothing new to any business model for news online.
Ironically, AP are better positioned than 99% of news organisations to take advantage of the networked society. Why? Because they are a networked news organisation, plugged into a thousand other news organisations around the world. They have scale, which means they are one of the few organisations who could be the Amazon or iTunes of news online – if they realise that both those organisations succeeded by creating value around content – not by strangling the marketplace of ideas so that only yours count.
I could go on, but I’m sure you can. So please do.