Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why the Associated Press no longer matters.

Or, Why the Associated Press matters. I haven't made up my mind.

I see from this report that the AP wants to protect the ownership of its content and enforce its copyright by limiting how that content is used. Not a problem. I have a strict clause in my Copyright notice at the bottom of this page stating that the LPGA, or Ladies Professional Golf Association, may NOT reproduce any of my content. It's a sensitive area, so don't ask about it. But you know what you did, Ladies.

But other than creating bogus stories, with made-up content, like some companies have done to copyright maps, I'm not sure how they can protect their content. If Joe Jones survives a fall from 5,000 feet by landing on Kirstie Alley, and the AP reports it, I don't know how they can claim ownership of the facts: Joe Jones, 5,000 feet, Kirstie Alley.

But what the AP says they can protect is the added value data or charts that might accompany the story, like a graph on how many other people have survived falls from great heights or how many other celebrities have been hit by mammals falling to earth (Richard Dreyfus is the only other one I can remember; he was knocked down by a key deer that had been caught on a weather balloon tether in 1993. The deer didn't make it, but Mr. Dreyfus went on to be nominated for an Oscar for his work in Mr. Holland's Opus).

So I'm guessing the AP would have some subscription service that would allow me to access their special content, like that chart, or the photo of Kirstie Alley's shocked look as Joe Jones careened towards her from out of the sky. And each item would have some locator information embedded into it to track unauthorized use if Boing Boing or Gawker or The Huffington Post tried to hotlink or use or steal or whatever, without permission.

And that has me curious: has the AP heard of Print Screen? If I want a picture that I can't copy, what stops me from doing a printscreen and pasting it into my photo editor? Even with complex steganography, a simple printscreen would give me the image I want without any embedded code of identification. Is this the monkey wrench in your fiendish plot? Pressing one button on my keyboard?

But if the AP manages to wrangle control of its content, I wonder how this will affect the flow of information. If I can't blog a snippet of AP content, can I still snip a bit from the newspaper and pin it up in my cubicle?

Will this aggressive enforcement deprive the digital world of content, and subsequently boost the value of the print world? Is this similar to how vinyl made its comeback?

Maybe I can't cut/paste electronic AP content, but I can scan a print copy and post that because copying print has been grandfathered in, as pre-DMCA technology, like vinyl analog record albums circumvent digital copying piracy rules (because they're not digital).

I see a future where more online content is controlled, and fewer linking sites survive because the content won't be there. And then I see newspapers making their comeback. Maybe not print newspapers, but still something we purchase through subscription and read with our e-paper doohickeys. People paid $3-$4 a week for a newspaper delivered to their doors for years: why wouldn't they pay again? But then, I also see a future where you love and adore me and invite me over for Parcheesi and chicken wing night. Every Tuesday. Hint, hint.

In almost every way, I think the AP sucks. But I also believe they have the right to distribute their content in a way that brings in the money. As long as that way doesn't piss me off.

Oh, and a note to Techdirt, who just noticed the AP message, "Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed." I blogged that puppy almost one year ago here. Ha! I run rings around you.