AP goes to war with search engines and blogs

posted at 6:20 pm on July 24, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

At times, it’s amazing how badly the traditional media understand the age in which they live.  The New York Times reports on the new effort by the Associated Press to build more revenue for their product — by attacking search engines, aggregators, and blogs that link to their articles and deliver readers to them.  The AP says that even a link doesn’t represent fair use in the Internet age:

Taking a new hard line that news articles should not turn up on search engines and Web sites without permission, The Associated Press said Thursday that it would add software to each article that shows what limits apply to the rights to use it, and that notifies The A.P. about how the article is used.

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Asked if that stance went further than The A.P. had gone before, he said, “That’s right.” The company envisions a campaign that goes far beyond The A.P., a nonprofit corporation. It wants the 1,400 American newspapers that own the company to join the effort and use its software.

“If someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and we’re going to do that,” Mr. Curley said. The goal, he said, was not to have less use of the news articles, but to be paid for any use.

Let’s just call it the Fast Track to AP Irrelevance.  Without a doubt, the new policy will have a chilling effect on blogs and aggregators who normally link to their content.  Unfortunately for the AP, that won’t result in an increase of revenues, but in having the entire online world ignore the AP.  The Times itself discovered this dynamic when it put its columnists behind the $50 dollar Firewall of Sanity.  Not only did the world fail to beat down their door to regain access to Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, and Bob Herbert, they also discovered that their columnists became all but invisible in the rapidly-growing and influential New Media.

Besides, the AP doesn’t get to determine what “fair use” means; Congress does.  It has been a long-accepted practice for commentators to use small excerpts from articles in order to both report the news and to comment on its delivery.  This goes back decades, when reviewers excerpted novels and media critics excerpted each other to deliver critiques.  Just because the AP doesn’t like copyright law doesn’t mean it doesn’t still applies to them.  However, the threat of legal action and the cost to people working on small revenue streams will mean that their threats will mostly be effective.

And then what?  Instead of having their reports, analysis, and polls expand their influence and power, they will lose traffic as people link to news sources that don’t threaten their readers — and suppliers of other readers.  Bloggers with large readerships will link to articles from other sources, such as Reuters, Agence France-Presse, the BBC, as well as newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.  They won’t be able to replace those readers by enhancing their position with search engines, because few if any of them will pay for the privilege of helping AP boost their bottom line.  They’ll become much less interesting for the end users of media, and possibly for their partners in traditional media as well. (via Joe Windish at The Moderate Voice)


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