Thoughts on AP’s quest to crack down on Internet sharing

The AP is planning on encasing its content in a DRM-like “wrapper” to ensure that their content and headlines aren’t used without their consent — and without payment.

Being paid for your work sounds like a good idea. But the AP is going further than ever before with its copyright claims over its content, and blatantly ignoring Fair Use:

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.

The AP either has never heard of the Fair Use Doctrine or openly opposes it. I’m betting on the latter. Now, it’s important to note that Fair Use is a defense, not a right and it doesn’t explicitly spell out anything about word counts, headlines, links, etc.

But from the people I have talked to, headlines and links fall under current definitions of Fair Use. The question then is this: Is the AP gearing up for a court battle? If they implement this policy they will find themselves in court by at least the EFF and probably many more my response.

Some more thoughts:

  1. I hope the AP didn’t spend too much time or money developing this DRM-like “wrapper” — Hackers will quickly break whatever copy protection AP devises, and I’m not sure how many member newspapers will join in anyway. Beyond that, I’m not convinced this wrapper will survive legal challenges. This could have been a giant waste of time and money.
  2. This wrapper better not harm user experience — DRM always works like this: It never stops people who really want to steal or break the law, but it almost always hinders law abiding, paying customers. Will this extra layer of code eat up CPU cycles and RAM, bring computers to a halt and not even work on some machines? My guess is that this negatively impacts law abiding users. User experiences matter.
  3. People may simply stop using AP content — If AP content is to become inherently un-Web friendly (unsharable, which is how the Web works), wouldn’t it stand to reason that people will simply use other content instead? I like sharing links. If the AP wants to stop me from doing that — and by extension, sending traffic their way — I’ll read and link to other content. There is nothing the AP does that is that unique that I can’t live without the AP.
  4. Not everyone at the AP thinks this is a good strategy — From what I can gather from people I know at the AP, not everyone is on board with this strategy of fighting how the Web works. The AP feels like a disjointed company. Some clearly don’t get the Web and dislike it, while others at the company are developing kick-ass Web and mobile apps. The AP has one of the premiere news apps on the iPhone, and yet other people at the AP dislike the Web. I can only imagine the division decisions like these are creating.
  5. Maybe the AP wants a court challenge — Fair Use remains a murky concept on the Internet, and a lot has changed with the fortunes of traditional news publishers. Even though I don’t think a court challenge would go the AP’s way, if they received a more favorable view of Fair Use handed down by the courts, it might be a game changer.