The AP and DRM; nothing to see here folks, move along

* The AP's says bloggers and other news sites are misappropriating their content

The Associated Press recently created quite a stir by announcing that the company is implementing a digital rights management (DRM) system to protect their content from both misuse and unauthorized use.

The AP's problem, as they see it, is that the likes of bloggers and other news sites are misappropriating their content and not only does the AP deserve to get paid but deserves getting paid handsomely: The pricing for AP content begins at $12.50 for five to 25 words which is by any measure simply ridiculous.

What is rather hard to fathom is that the AP pricing is described for the embedding "of [an] article on your web site, intranet, or blog." Given that quoting a work under Fair Use doctrine could easily involve word counts less than 25 words it does appear that the AP is willing to overreach.

Curiously, at the time of writing this newsletter the link on the pricing page that should take you to what should be a sample of an excerpt results in a "404-Page Not Available" error. Perhaps this means that someone is rethinking what a sample should really look like.

But wait! Is this really what it seems, a huge organization losing its corporate mind and trying to beat the market into submission with a legal club and then gouge the market that still wants to play?

Well, no, not quite.

The wave of opprobrium that the AP's announcement was greeted with was really of its own making. Last June the AP set the scene for the market to assume it was the bad guys when they sent a number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown orders to the Drudge Retort, a news site based on social networking, (note, not to be confused with the far more famous Drudge Report]).

In this the AP seemed to many people (including myself) to be seriously overreaching as the quoted material was a fraction of the original stories and the postings linked back to the actual AP stories, something you would think that the AP would want!

So, when the AP's DRM plans were recently announced it's not surprising that many online commentators including CrunchGear, Betanews and Techdirt assumed the worst and laid into the AP with a will.

The truth is a little more complex than the way it has been presented so far. For example, many blogs and news sites claimed that the AP was trying to stop Google from using its news but, in fact, Google pays the AP for the content it republishes on Google News.

According to the Columbia Journalism Review's blog Jane Seagrave, AP's senior vice president of global product development, explained the company's position thusly: "We want to stop wholesale misappropriation of our content which does occur right now — people who are copying and pasting or taking by RSS feeds dozens or hundreds of our stories … Are we going to worry about individuals using our stories here and there? That isn't our intent. That's being fueled by people who want to make us look silly. But we're not silly."

Another bit of misinformation is how the DRM system that the AP plans to use actually works and the AP's diagram of the system was a huge PR blunder on its part as it does nothing to clarify its position or intent.

This system doesn't implement any kind of active DRM (such Sony's clumsy and ill-conceived DRM attempt for CDs back in 2005) but rather a declarative content and rights definition architecture based on hNews, a "microformat for news content" that has been proposed by the AP and the Media Standards Trust. This is really a move towards applying standards that bring news content into line with the goals of the semantic Web as, as such, should be applauded.

At the end of this fracas there's really only one issue outstanding: The AP's position regarding Fair Use. Should it decide to flex its muscles and be unreasonable then we’ll have a story. Until then, as the police say, there's nothing to see here folks, move along now.

Learn more about this topic

Control vs. usability: What's DRM's future?

DRM's slow death ... sorta

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