AP's puzzling crusade continues to confound

Putting aside principles and profits, can technology back threats by news service?

As you might expect given my 30-plus years as a journalist, I am something of a copyright hardliner: Content producers should be compensated for their work and others should not leach off it willy-nilly.

I also believe in fair use and that news itself cannot be copyrighted, so I don't for the life of me see where the Associated Press is going with its ongoing legal threats and promises to unleash a technological watchdog on bloggers and news aggregators. Shortsighted, yes. Doomed to fail? Almost certainly.

From an analysis in Wired:

The A.P. said it would be implementing hNews, a kind of html code embedded in news stories that lets news publishers tell browsers and search engines who wrote a story, where it was written, what the story's headline is, when a story was published and what kind of copyright is attached to the story.

By adding these structured and agreed-upon codes to the underside of online news pages, news sites can let search engines can make more sense of their stories and letting people search for news by time, date or author. (Other microformats that are widely accepted currently include hCard, a way to embed detailed contact info in a web page.)

As a means of improving indexing and search this approach works just fine. As a shield against unauthorized use of content, however, it is easily thwarted. Indeed, it is designed to detect unauthorized use under conditions a content thief would be unlikely to use: Simply cutting and pasting AP content will remove all underlying code (as an overly ambitious aggregator might). So will re-typing it (as a commenting blogger might).

I hope at least the software developer will make money.

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