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.


  1. Brock Meeks says

    Fascinating piece; unacceptable reaction and refusal from AP.
    But in the future if you’re gonna serve up a smackdown (“…that’s three, have I missed any?”) it would help to arm yourself with the facts. That you failed to initally cite so many other stories is just a sign of sloppy journalism. Rant and rave–you’re right on the money–but next time you shoot off your mouth, don’t aim for your foot. (typos served up via iPhone keyboard.)

  2. says

    Put me in the bucket that is sympathetic to where AP is coming from, but who still concludes that they are fighting a losing battle, something that I blogged about in:

    Old Media, New Media and Where the Rubber Meets the Road

    Here’s an excerpt:Now, AP wants to turn back the hands of time by limiting/restricting access to and usage of that content. Meanwhile, digital media advocates are citing fair use doctrines, and you just know that this can’t end well for AP, as their product is fundamentally undifferentiated. That is not to suggest that they (AP) have no case, at least karmically speaking, but it’s akin to arguing about oxygen. This is the atmosphere that they operate within. The media industry would have to exercise a collective, orchestrated “re-set” to turn the tide on this one. Maybe they will, but I am skeptical.

    In any event, check out the post if interested.


  3. says

    I think some good can come out of this — the use of microformats, geotagging, etc. that are outlined are all great news. Even if the search engines aren’t using the data today, having that data will undoubtedly be useful going forward. Using automated tools like Google has with Google News can lead to useless or hilarious results.

    But pitching this (as AP has) as a way to protect content is ludicrous. The microformat data will be stripped away by simple procedures as cut-and-paste. You could theoretically “protect” AP’s stories by doing text searches for the phrases used and going after those who copy stories in their entirety.

    And as you’ve written before, it’s questionable whether what AP provides is protectable in the first place when it comes to paraphrasing. Here the AP and news outlets are in a worse position than the music industry. In music, the value is in specific expressions, which are subject to copyright. In news, the value is mostly in the facts, which aren’t.

  4. says

    Ryan Chittum at CJR is doing his best to cover for AP: http://bit.ly/2pZMIh

    In the comments, Chittum tells bloggers not to worry, AP won’t use the powers it purports to have:

    “This is not an either/or situation on the NYT graf. It’s clear to me that the AP’s legal stance is that any use requires permission. That’s boilerplate corporate ass-covering.

    But the AP says–clearly and on the record, not by a “mouthpiece,” but by the person who heads up the program–that it will only apply the licensing requirement to people who “systematically” use its content to make money or who repurpose it “wholesale.”

    It will not go after individual use of its content like my example in this post. It’s not going to go after bloggers. It wants bloggers to do their thing and tip their stories.

    Translated: Don’t worry your pretty little head about those legal matters. Just trust AP and never mind the precedent.

  5. Brock Meeks says

    My “bigger point” is that it seemed as if you were trying to ding the AP for only talking to a few people, yet your update lists seven with “etc., etc.” attached, leaving me at least, to assume that there are many more, perhaps too many more for you to just keep listing them. That’s hardly worth the slight you were trying to put on the AP.

    Of course the number was “innumerable” but we ALL know that’s just a shorthand way of saying “lots and lots” or “too many to list off the top of my head,” or “etc., etc.”

    It’s like the lazy journalists that talk to two sources on say, oh, Islamic Fundamentalism and then writing, “according to Islamic experts…” when the correct sentence should read: “According to the only two Islamic experts that managed to return the ‘innumerable’ calls I placed…”

    My “bigger point” here is that you’re doing a wonderful of job of shoving this AP spokesman’s words right back at him and making the whole incident look pedantic and self-righteous… no need to go the “extra mile” by hammering the “innumerable” line–that’s a sideshow, in my opinion.

  6. says

    No, Brock — the etc. etc. part was not mine. That’s what Paul from the AP sent. He gave me a list and put those two at the end, the etc. etc. part.

    I’m definitely trying not to be lazy. I’ve tried repeatedly to talk to the AP, to get the full story. They don’t want to talk to me, as best I can tell, and are using “we’ve talked enough” as an excuse. My view.

  7. says

    Brock, to clarify further, damn right I’m trying to ding the AP in this post. Here’s some more context.

    Back in May, when they AP was raising issues about its relations with Google, I asked several times to speak with someone at the AP about this.

    Google and search engines are my beat. I have covered them for years, longer than any other journalist I know. That’s one reason why other journalists, including the AP’s own reporters, have long used me as a source for their stories.

    I have an extensive reach among those who care about all matters of search. Despite this, no AP execs were available. None. They were done talking about these matters, I was told.

    Skip forward to this month, and they’re talking again. The AP doesn’t reach out to me, as it clearly did with other publications. OK — I’ll reach out to them once again. And I did on July 23. No answer. None. Not a “we’re done talking to the press.” Not a “we don’t want to talk to you in particular.” Nothing.

    Yesterday, I reached out to two separate AP executives including Jane Seagrave who has been commenting. No answer.

    Today, I tried again, new route — this time an actual phone call back to Paul, who apparently ignored my email of July 23 and, I can only assume, the forwarded emails he probably got from the two AP execs I emailed. And this time, it’s the “we’re done talking thing.”

    Yes, I’ve been trying to do my legwork in talking to them, over and above, I’d say. It’s not that they don’t have time to talk to me or others on these topics. It’s that they’ve said all they want to say at this point, especially because when you get into the technical details, they don’t seem to have all the answers together. And that’s very worrying from an organization that’s supposed to be out there on behalf of its member publications trying to bring forward a new era and future for journalism.

    The AP doesn’t have to talk to me. They’re within their rights not to, and I can totally understand that they might feel it’s not productive — that I have an agenda — that I’m not worth the time, etc. But then say that, not this “we’re done” talking spin.

  8. says

    AP’s decision not to chat with you — in particular — is more evidence of how *utterly* out of touch they are with “the web.” If the debate were about archiving, they wouldn’t know enough to take a call from Brewster Kahle; if about clutter avoidance, they’d ignore Matt Cutts. Somehow, they seem *more* clueless about the fundamentals of this space with every passing day…

  9. Brock Meeks says

    So noted, Danny, on the point about the “etc., etc.” in the list above. And I never wanted to imply that you were being at all “lazy,” I was just noting how some journalists (ok, far too many) fall in the lazy shorthand of making it sound like “many experts” were talked to when in actuality, maybe two were interviewed. That was an example, not an indictment of your work on this piece.

    So, let’s leave all behind now–it’s really inconsequential. For the AP to simply say, “we’re done” giving interviews is beyond the pale. How many of their editors would allow AP reporters to say, “well, boss, I couldn’t get the interview because, well, they said, ‘they’re done.'” No AP reporter I know would accept such a bullshit answer and I’m pleased to see you haven’t either.

    I’m in your corner on this.

  10. says

    If they are done talking that’s just fine. I’m done linking to them, and reading their material. Fortunately there are plenty of other news sources on the Internet.

    One day they will wake up and realize that they have alienated Internet users, their one viable market in the future.

  11. says

    I think you did a fine job of showing that the AP is full of it.

    I hate to sound like a kid but they’re just so stupid, it makes me want to see them dead now rather than later.

    But I guess we’ll have to watch them die the death of a thousand cuts.

    Hopefully that will hurt a lot!

  12. Pat B says

    The AP might want to read up on things like micro channel architecture. Creating a technical solution where everyone has to bow at your altar will annoy enough people that an alternative will appear. This alternative will make you irrelevant. You will eventually be marginalized in your core business because everyone will just go around you.

  13. says

    Top-level executives in news companies are usually the most removed from reality. All they know how to do is sell ads around the content. Anything that disrupts this familiar pattern and requires actual thinking is painful to them. These are the people who need to go to save their companies, but they’re not going to fire themselves. They’ll just lawyer up, buy magic beans, and hang on until retirement.

  14. says

    speaking out on the news business, stated today that “the Internet free access model is clearly malfunctioning, as I don’t make enough money from it. We have to educate people that free doesn’t work, particularly for us.”

    Media commentators fear for the future of investigative journalism. “How can we hold governments’ feet to the fire without money to pay our great reporters? Where would you get your recycled wire feeds, your Garfield cartoons?”

    Publishers hold that it is natural for readers to pay what advertisers once did, just as cows have to make up the difference out of their own pockets when the price of milk falls. “Without the AP, journalism would not exist! Just as without pimps, sex would never have been invented.”

    Newspapers have suffered badly since the collapse of their previous business model of selling readers to advertisers on a local monopoly basis. The replacement models appear to involve phlogiston, caloric and luminiferous aether.

    Publishers have also explored the notion of getting Google to pay its “fair share” for so parasitically leading people to newspapers’ websites. The Wikimedia Foundation promptly started billing journalists for their reprints from Wikipedia. “We feel this is completely unfair,” said Tom Curley of the Associated Press, “as real news stories spring forth from the heads of accredited reporters in an immaculate creation from nothingness. My preciousss.” Maurice Jarre was unavailable for comment.

  15. says


    I really admire your willingness to go the extra mile with such an archaic 19th century industry organization. It never surprises me when a behemoth of business crosses over into the realm of total arrogance.

    My latest concerns with the print news industry as a whole got a lot more intense this past week when President Obama came out in favor of at least considering a news industry bailout.

    Of course, he said they’d have to become nonprofits if they want a gov’t handout, which is a superb requirement, because that won’t ever happen in our lifetime.

    Bottom line though is that it’s really all about how willing intransigent parties are to let go of that greed based grip so they can actually learn how to make a reasonable and realistic profit. But that would require an actual open dialogue with the likes of Danny Sullivan…