The AP Plans 'News Registry' To Protect Content

The world's oldest and largest news gathering organization aims to fight online theft of its content with digital tracking beacons.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

July 23, 2009

3 Min Read

Moving to limit the unauthorized republication of its news stories by aggregators, The Associated Press on Wednesday said that it plans to create a news registry to track all AP content online.

In a statement, Dean Singleton, chairman of the AP Board of Directors and vice chairman and CEO of MediaNews Group, said that the AP is building a way for good journalism to survive.

Journalism's long-term prospects have been in doubt recently following the closure of several national newspapers and the newpaper industry's deepening financial troubles.

In May, media company representatives met in Washington, D.C., to discuss the future of journalism before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.

At the hearing, David Simon, a former reporter for The Baltimore Sun, noted author, and the creator of HBO's The Wire, said, "High-end journalism is dying and it won't be reborn anywhere else without a new model. The parasite is slowly killing the host."

The AP hopes its news registry will render the parasite less harmful.

The registry, which the AP intends to launch later this year, will initially track all AP text content on the Internet. The AP plans to extend coverage to AP member content in 2010. After that, the system will be expanded to cover photos and videos.

The AP said that the registry will utilize a microformat "wrapper" to encapsulate AP and member content. The system "includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and ... also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage."

The system will provide publishers with content usage metrics, payment services, and enforcement assistance, and is designed to work with various payment models, including "pay walls."

"It's not DRM," said Jane Seagrave, SVP for global product development at the AP. "It's CMI, copyright management information. It carries metadata about the story, it carries rights information and it carries a tracking beacon, a way of reporting back what's been found."

Aware that Facebook's Beacon initiative has turned "beacon" into a synonym for privacy invasion, Seagrave acknowledged that "beacon" is not a great word to describe the system. "It's not the same [as what Facebook did]," she said. "There are no cookies attached. We're not after personal information at all. What we're trying to find out is where the information is being used rather than who is using it."

Seagrave characterized the news registry as a business-to-business system designed to deter large-scale copying of AP content rather than individual bloggers who cut and paste a few too many paragraphs from an AP story. "It's not aimed at people who use part of stories periodically," she said. "It's aimed at being affirmative about how we allow our content to be used."

"The problem we have now is that our stories are getting scraped and reused in large quantities by aggregators who haven't paid any license fees," she said.

Seagrave said that determined content copiers could probably find ways around the system, but that the AP has additional methods to protect its rights. The news registry, she suggested, was more about clarifying the AP's expectations rather than delivering a technical silver bullet against copyright infringement.

Litigation is one such additional method. Earlier this month, the AP announced that it had settled its copyright infringement lawsuit against AHN Media for an undisclosed sum. As part of the settlement, AHN acknowledged using the AP's content without consent.

"We believe that we need to protect our content and take affirmative steps to protect our intellectual property interest," she said. "In any legal or business setting, having taken steps to say how content can and should be used is a point in your favor."

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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