AP: “We’re Done” Answering Questions About Fair Use & Our Rights System

Still confused about the Associated Press’s announcement last week about a new content tagging system that’s supposed to provide rights information? I am — but the AP’s apparently not talking to anyone further about it.

“For the moment, we’re done,” said AP spokesperson Paul Colford. “We’ve spoken to innumerable people,” he said, and now the AP is going to “leave the phone at rest” and “tend to our knitting” to “refine and improve” things.

Me, I’m still wondering how a meta tagging system that contains no tracking elements is supposed to also, according to the AP, supply “the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.”

I also have questions about a system that promises benefits like better classification or story summaries despite the fact that I know none of the major search engines currently use the tags in this way.

I remain confused about how on the one hand, the AP has suggested that even “minimal” use of content may be a copyright infringement but then does another interview suggesting bloggers and others have nothing to worry about. Look at the comments in that interview, over at the Columbia Journalism Review, and you’ll see I’m not alone in my confusion.

I’m trying to understand how the new system fits in with that other AP-backed meta tagging system that has been out there longer and has been more widely adopted by newspapers (though not search engines): ACAP.

I still have older questions about the new news portal that the AP intends to build. When I first asked about those, I was told that no interviews were being given. I’d just missed out on the round, apparently.

Despite my obvious interest being known, I didn’t get in on the second round last week that involved those “innumerable” people. I can enumerate them — an interview to the AP itself, the New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review. That’s three — who am I missing?

Colford let me know that he had seen my writings about the AP and understood I had a particular viewpoint. He didn’t outright say that my critical views meant I wouldn’t get to talk to anyone at the AP, but you can imagine that’s the reason I suspect. I made it clear that I actually have a number of news publishers who read me, and I’d like to understand the system from a technical standpoint more, to better advise them.

That’s something I’ve been doing for going on 14 years now. I can be critical yet fair, I think. Part of being fair is trying to talk to various parties. It’s hard to be fair when one of those parties refuses to talk. For a news organization, I also find it shameful.

Postscript: Colford emailed me further interviews. I’ve added links and commentary from myself next to these.

As Brock Meeks points out in the comments below, it would have been a stronger piece on my part if I’d listed these. I guess I focused too much on the “innumerable” statement I was given.

The interviews weren’t innumerable. Some of them came after I put in my request to speak to someone at the AP on July 24, which was never answered — not to mention my previous requests that were made in May.

There also appears to have been an initial round when the system was announced last week, then a follow-up round. Despite that follow-up, there remain many technical and other issues that simply haven’t been addressed — such as what happens with stories from AP members that in turn go out via AP’s network. Does a Los Angeles Times article ultimately get tagged and “belong” to the AP?

The list Colford sent; my comments are in brackets.

  • Public radio’s “Marketplace” [AP clamps down on content pirates, short piece that doesn’t get into any of the technical issues].
  • Wired.com [AP Doesn’t Know Its Protection Tech Doesn’t Protect, which doesn’t address the situation with ACAP but does cover issues that I and many others have been pointing out in terms of meta data not providing tracking. Doesn’t address the earlier announced news portal. Doesn’t address issues like how blogs can license AP content (I’m still waiting to hear back from the AP business development side on that — I actually asked how Search Engine Land could license AP content). This story came out 3 days after I put in my request to speak with someone at the AP. I had seen this and should have included it among the three above — in fact, I tweeted about it yesterday].
  • eWeek [AP Preparing New Copyright Management System, downplays the DRM idea, highlights the “stylebook idea. Story came out 3 days after I made my initial request. Doesn’t address the situation with ACAP.]
  • The Wall Street Journal [AP Creates Registry to Monitor Use of Stories Online, short story notable for saying that if “portals” don’t agree to the standards, they might not be able to use AP content. Portals might include players like Google and Yahoo. If they don’t agree to index meta data that the AP provides, will the AP block inclusion of its content?]
  • WSJ.com’s AllThingsD [Is the AP Adding DRM to the News? Not Yet, which is a nice short piece by Peter Kafka discussing how the system isn’t a universal solution for copyright issues but doesn’t address the ACAP situation].
  • Financial Times [AP lays groundwork for content protection, discusses how AP contracts with Yahoo and Google expire this year. Quotes AP CEO Tom Curley as saying the system will provide more effective identification and tracking of content. This is the same system the AP tells me it now can no longer talk about as it goes back to its “knitting” to “refine and improve” things.
  • Agence France-Presse [AP “news registry” to track online use, discusses the registry as “open source,” though there’s nothing about the registry itself that I see which can be accessed outside the AP. There’s a general meta tagging system that anyone can use, yes. But the system that scans for meta tag usage to look at potential rights issues? That’s not part of the meta tagging site. That appears to be an AP-specific registry].
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

[Note: The Etc. Etc. items were what Colford from the AP emailed, not me somehow deciding not to list other publications he’d mentioned. He was shorthanding that there were other publications the AP talked to beyond those he actually itemized].

I also found an overview article at InformationWeek saying this isn’t DRM but “CMI” or “copyright management information,” which mentions a beacon being used, even though the public information about the meta data format has no beacon provision. AP suggests that there’s not a privacy issue since no cookies are being used. The reality is that any type of tracking system will log information such an an IP address — there are privacy implications, and in fact, there might be cookies involved at the receiving end.

The Guardian has a piece, Associated Press plans tracking system to enforce its rights online, which addresses the confusion with ACAP but has no follow up from the AP about this (that’s one of my follow up questions, and it would have been something I’d have asked if I’d gotten an interview on the same day the Guardian piece appeared — which is the same day I put in my request).

Also, via Techmeme, DRM for news? Inside the AP’s plan to “wrap” its content from Ars Technical has a further breakdown on how the AP system might — and might not — work to achieve its goals. It doesn’t have recent quotes from the AP. However, the AP did talk about issues on a panel in June. This is a month after I was told by the AP that its executives were in a quiet period an unavailable to speak.

Much of what’s in the Ars article — and in the Wired piece — about the technical issues are the same things I’ll address in a future article. To do that properly, I wanted to speak with the AP. Now, I’ll do the best I can from looking from the outside in.

I also wanted to highlight this diagram that the AP has released on how its system will work:

How The AP News Registry Works

The red arrow was added by me. Note that it points to the Google News logo, suggesting that somehow this entire system works with Google News or potentially to some, that it is endorsed by Google. Neither is the case.

You can read the AP statement about the new system here, and there’s a FAQ here. This part is interesting:

Where does AP stand on its earlier announcement to create “search pages” to serve as authoritative sources of news?

The news registry will enable a range of opportunities and possibilities for content organization, as well as an improved search experience for the end user. One possibility supported by the news registry is to require links to search optimized news pages that guide users to timely, authoritative coverage. AP continues to research the concept.

If the AP requires member publications to link to its content — and those member publications also pay the AP to receive that content, potentially this will put the AP in violation of Google’s guidelines on paid links.

Finally, I love newspapers I read one, if not two, nearly every day. I love quality journalism. I want quality journalism to survive. If I’m critical of what I’ve seen from the AP, that’s because so far, it doesn’t appear to make much sense from the outside. I fear it’s not going to help anything other than to stall efforts to really help quality journalism pay for itself online. How The AP Fails To Get Search & SEO (Again) is a recent piece from me that covers ongoing failures the AP has demonstrated when it comes to search.

I want the AP to get it. And if they don’t get it (in my view), at least I want to hear directly from them about why they think search engines have it wrong, so I can hold the search engines to the fire as well.

Meanwhile, if you’re from a newspaper and want to get it, check out my Quick Tips For Newspapers & SEO post.