Copyright on the web: A very American concern

Content just wants to be free? Yeah right, says the Associated Press.

The US news agency is already using Attributor to hunt down illegal reuse of its copy on the web.

Now it has signed a deal with icopyright that’s intended to give corporates who want to re-use news stories a convenient way of doing the right thing. In other words, this is a reprint service gussied up for web use. (I say it looks convenient. . . well, up to a point. . .)

Now, of course, AP has its detractors. This isn’t surprising. After all, it’s one hell of an easy target. With 1,500 shareholding newspaper publishers, the AP boasts a board of directors that makes the Football Association look like a model of corporate governance. Inevitably, it’s heavily identified with the conservatism that has hobbled the US newspaper industry’s efforts to cope with digital media.

Encouragingly, however, Tom Curley, AP’s chief executive, has a way with words. In a speech last November, he suggested that the news media needs to drop its “institutional arrogance”, which has done it “more harm. . . than any portal”.

Curley can do the pro-web vision thing with the best of them. That’s good. But the AP has also garnered a reputation for fighting intellectual property disputes aggressively.

It has sued Google and reached a settlement. And it has sued Moreover Technologies, too.

AP is also a supporter of ACAP — the news industry’s effort to exert some control over the way in which search engines present its content. (At the moment, I can’t see what incentive Google has to accept ACAP, but that’s another story. . .)

Individually, AP’s lawsuits, efforts at copyright enforcement and promotion of ACAP may or may not turn out to be successful.

These tactics are political as much as legal. They are important in forcing the debate about how much of the free web’s economic potential should (or can, or will) accrue to the media (as opposed to Google and Microsoft).

One way or another, this is an argument that needs to had. Ignoring it is not an option. As Curley puts it:

Great content always has needed great distribution. Job one for industry leaders should be doing whatever it takes to get a fair deal even if they must swallow some decades-long enmities and partner for more clout.

Enforcement, too, must be a part. What we do comes at great cost and sacrifice, even death. We believe content should have wide distribution. We intend to be compensated for it.

So long as Big Media gets on with the business of innovating and doesn’t suppose that it can live off rents extorted by lawyers, this is a constructive argument. Commercially, it would be stupid not to pursue it.

PS: Is it me, or is tracking the re-use and abuse of copy a US preoccupation?

Apparently, icopyright has a raft of US customers including the Boston Globe, Scripps, Ziff David Media and Advanstar. As for Attributor, it’s got AP, the Press Association and Reuters for company. Not bad.

But where, I wonder, are the UK’s newspaper and trade media groups in all of this?

Presumably, despite their massive international reach, UK-based publishers aren’t having their copy nicked by all and sundry on the world wide web. Or perhaps, being thoroughly 2.0 types, we simply don’t care. . .

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