Peter Kafka

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AP Shakes Fist at Google, Tells Internet to Get Off Its Damn Lawn

beale

The Associated Press is fed up with…the Internet, apparently. And it’s going to do…something about it.

At the news-gathering co-op’s annual meeting today, AP chairman Dean Singleton let rip a sort of hellfire-and-brimstone speech in which he announced the AP’s vague plans to stop unnamed scoundrels from making money from their work.

The relevant bit:

“[The AP's board has] unanimously decided to take all actions necessary to protect the content of the Associated Press and the AP Digital Cooperative from misappropriation on the Internet.

The board also unanimously agreed to work with portals and other partners who legally license our content and who reward the cooperative for its vast newsgathering efforts–and to seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don’t.

We believe all of your newspapers will join our battle to protect our content and receive appropriate compensation for it.

AP and its member newspapers and broadcast associate members are the source of most of the news content being created in the world today. We must be paid fully and fairly.”

If this sounds like the AP is riffing off the famous speech from “Network,” that’s not an accident. In fact, Dean Singleton does indeed quote the movie’s Howard Beale in his remarks: “We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories. We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it any more.”

In theory, Singleton and the AP are talking about a wide range of sites that profit by repurposing someone else’s content, from down-and-dirty “scraping sites” to the much more refined (and useful) Huffington Post, to…I don’t know.

But now it’s become much clearer why News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch singled out Google (GOOG) in remarks he made at a cable industry convention last week: The news guys have decided that the search engine has now become public enemy No. 1. That makes a sort of sense: If you’re going to go after someone, pick the guy with the deepest pockets.

And look. Unlike some of my bloggy colleagues, I don’t think that the people who pay to produce content are insane to complain about getting ripped off by aggregators of all stripes.

The thing is, even if the news guys somehow stopped people from using Google to find information they need, it wouldn’t do anything to solve the essential problems plaguing their business. Such as:

  • An overabundance of undifferentiated, commodity information.
  • The wholesale evaporation of classified advertising and local retail advertising.
  • Investors who paid too much for newspapers and other media assets during the last 10 years, using too much debt.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing more about the AP’s plans, vaguely referred to in this press release as developing “a system to track content distributed online to determine if it is being legally used…” and including “the development of new search pages that point users to the latest and most authoritative sources of breaking news.”

You mean, they’re going to build their own search engine? That can’t be right. But if I hear back from the AP folks, I’ll try to get them to explain.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jim Kennedy VP/director of strategic planning for the AP, for teasing some of this out for me. Here’s what the AP is thinking:

  • Kennedy confirmed that some of the AP’s ire is indeed aimed at Google, and that the drum-beating has a purpose. The search engine has a deal with the AP that expires at the end of this year, and the AP is setting the table for upcoming negotiations. Their main contention: Google is already using AP content in ways that aren’t covered by the existing agreement, and the AP wants to be compensated for them. Expect to hear lots more about this in future months.
  • The AP’s “stick” approach is aimed at Web aggregators: It plans on “fingerprinting” its content so it can track where its stuff is showing up and how it’s being used. If it’s being misused, it has an array of options that start with a takedown notice and end with legal remedies.
  • The AP’s carrot approach is aimed at Web surfers: It will become an aggregator of its own content. Specifically, it plans on building search engine-friendly Web pages built around specific topics — say, “Fargo floods” or “Michelle Obama”–composed of links that direct readers to AP stories. The idea is to get the pages to show up high in a Google search, alongside, or higher than, similar pages from Web aggregators who are doing the same thing–like Wikipedia, Huffington Post, BusinessWeek, Mahalo, and on and on and on. Kennedy says it has built prototypes of the aggregator pages and plans on rolling them out in the second half of this year.

Meanwhile, note to the AP folks: You are aware at Howard Beale gets shot to death at the end of the movie, right?


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik