The AP versus the Aggregators

This morning the New York Times reports on the annual meeting of the Associated Press, and the remarks by AP Chairman William Dean Singleton that the organization “was mad as hell” and not going to take it any more from the portals and internet sites that use, abuse and profit from  its content under the guise of “fair use.”

Rather than rely on the Times — an AP member — for the news, I dug out the full text of Mr. Singleton’s remarks:

“On Saturday, the AP Board of Directors unanimously decided to take all actions necessary to protect the content of the Associated Press and the AP Digital Cooperative from misappropriation on the Internet.

The board also unanimously agreed to work with portals and other partners who legally license our content and who reward the cooperative for its vast newsgathering efforts — and to seek legal and legislative remedies against those who don’t.

We believe all of your newspapers will join our battle to protect our content and receive appropriate compensation for it.

AP and its member newspapers and broadcast associate members are the source of most of the news content being created in the world today. We must be paid fully and fairly.

We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories. We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it any more.

You will be hearing more about this important and exciting campaign in the coming weeks and months, but I wanted to share this with you today. I know all of you will be looking forward to playing a big role in this cooperative effort. “

Here’s the problem in a nutshell.  The AP is ticked off at Yahoo and Google and other big portals for running ads against excerpts of its content — even when those excerpts and headlines link to the full-text version on the original AP member newspaper’s website. AP wants to be paid by the portals for the privilege of lifting its headline and ledes and then linking back to the full-text. They’ve been moaning about this since early 2008.

From the Times article:

“This is not about defining fair use,” said Sue A. Cross, a senior vice president of the group, who added several times during an interview that news organizations want to work with the aggregators, not against them. “There’s a bigger economic issue at stake here that we’re trying to tackle.”

But the details remain to be worked out, she said, including how to limit use of articles and how to share revenue. When asked if The A.P. would require a licensing agreement before a search engine could show specific material, Ms. Cross said, “that could be an element of it,” but added, “it’s not that formed.”

This reminds me of the edict of a former CEO of a former employer (not Forbes) who decided that he would ban links into his content by competitors.

This also reminds me of the lawsuit pending here in Massachusetts by Gatehouse Media against the Times and Boston Globe for linking to Gatehouse’s weekly newspaper websites and drawing its headlines and leads together in an attempt to create “hyper-local” aggregators.

I see two fundamental religious differences in the philosophy of linking and linkage.

1. Internet geeks and techies, like myself, see the “hyperlink” as the essence of the Web and that most content on the web should be linkable and not walled off.

2. Publishers and lawyers want to be compensated for the cost of producing the content that gets linked to, and are aggravated by ads sold against a page containing a link to the page they created.

Prediction? AP is clutching at straws. This is an embarrassment for them and their members who are hurting hard and need all the traffic they can get. The quid pro quo in linkage is traffic and the portals are dumping billions of free page views into their laps. Shut off the links and start chasing sites on a battle against the concept of “fair use,” replacing the debate into one about “fair share” and no one wins.

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