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AP to digitally monitor copyright

The AP has announced it is going to use an automated system to monitor the use of AP content on the Web, looking for copyright violations. The empire is fighting back. From the press release:

The Associated Press Board of Directors today directed The Associated Press to create a news registry that will tag and track all AP content online to assure compliance with terms of use. The system will register key identifying information about each piece of content that AP distributes as well as the terms of use of that content, and employ a built-in beacon to notify AP about how the content is used.

I think there are three possible broad-stroke outcomes:

1. The AP takes an enlightened and generous view of copyright protection and its terms of use, encouraging people to link to and cite its stories, and saving its angry face for commercial thieves, wholesale infringers, and other scum. The AP remains a major source of news, fulfills the social mission of the newspapers who are its members, and our culture is better off for it.

2. The AP’s automated system is set on a hair trigger. The AP protects its copyright so well that no one ever hears from it again.

3. The AP acts inconsistently. It sends scary letters to teenagers who copy three paragraphs about the Jonas Brothers and sics lawyers on a professor teaching a course on media studies. No one understands what the AP is doing, so we all get scared and hate it.

To start with, it’d be great if the AP’s copyright warnings didn’t just tell people what they can’t do, but also told them what they can do, and encouraged us to re-use the material as much as possible. On the other hand, since one of the aims of the new system (according to the press release) is to facilitate the use of pay walls, I expect we’ll see more of the AP’s content making itself irrelevant.

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4 Responses to “AP to digitally monitor copyright”

  1. The AP is so misguided that it’s hard to know what the outcome will be.

    It considers a headline plus a link to be a violation of its rights, which is clearly not going to be enforceable.

    It also apparently rejects all notion of fair use, citation, critique, parody, and teaching, all of which have various exceptions in copyright law and court rulings.

    If AP follows through on all that, it will essentially waste all its member newspapers fees on litigation, a strategy that hasn’t seemed to work for the RIAA, either.

    The technology behind its tracking system is laughable. In one account that seems to provide real detail, the AP will embed microformatted metadata (i.e., fielded text in a known format) inside the HTML of articles. Which won’t track bupkes unless someone using AP content copies that microformat.

    This reminds me of the plot of Tom Clancy’s first cyber novel (Rainbow 7?), in which a programmer says that the bad guys hid the malicious code in the copyright notice (somehow).

  2. Glenn: There’s another possibility, which I just noted on my blog: use the DMCA against those who remove AP content from its tracking wrappers.

  3. Not possible, Fernando. The wrapper is apparently just plain text inserted into the HTML. The DMCA is specifically about reverse-engineering encryption. If it’s true DRM, no one is going to be able to read the stuff without a special reader (maybe embedded Flash or Java?), which would essentially turn the AP into a non-entity on the Internet. No one would read. Other sources would fill the gap, acquire revenue therefrom.

  4. IANAL, but the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provisions do not mention encryption, they are more generally about any access controls and rights controls. The fact that the wrapper may be inept technically does not necessarily mean that (triavially) breaching is not circumvention.

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