AP says it will “take action” against web aggregators that don’t pay fees for linking to AP stories.
Taking aim at the way news is spread across the Internet, The
Associated Press said on Monday that it will demand that Web sites
obtain permission to use the work of The A.P. or its member newspapers,
and share revenue with the news organizations, and that it will take
legal action those that do not.
Associated Press executives said the policy was aimed at major search engines like Google, Yahoo and their competitors, and also at news aggregators like the Huffington Post,
as well as companies that sell packaged news services. They said they
do not want to stop the appearance of articles around the Web, but to
exercise some control over it and to profit from it. The A.P. also said
it is developing a system to track news articles online and determine
whether they were used legally.
Okay, I realize I have a self interest here. ArtsJournal is built on aggregating stories and sending readers after them. And I realize the newspaper industry is under siege and that AP is suffering. The news industry’s woes have spawned a number of increasingly desperate please for solutions, the most common of which seems to be that readers are going to have to start paying for content because it costs us to produce it and they just have to. That’s not an argument, it’s cry of desperation, and there’s so far no evidence that readers will so pay because they want to.
But if you want to understand why the news industry has so failed at adapting to the web, this latest threat by AP is a good example. Google is the enemy? Actually, Google send more traffic to most websites than any other source. Publishers clamor for Google attention. A whole industry has grown up around optimizing web pages to attract Google. Google can throw so much attention to a news story that it can swamp your server. This is bad?
According to the AP, yes. But the AP argument is wishful thinking and not just a little bit disingenuous. If publishers (or AP) didn’t want Google crawling its pages and aggregating links, there’s a way technically to make those pages invisible to Google. So this isn’t s legal argument, it’s a technical one. What AP seems to be saying is “please aggregate us, but because you’re so good at it we want you to pay us.” Trouble is, since AP and the publishers have allowed Google unfettered access, and indeed encouraged the search engines to discover their content, they wouldn’t seem to have much of a case arguing that Google is “stealing” from them.
And other aggregators? The web is all about pointing users to content. This blog entry is based on a story found in the New York Times. Does that mean I should be paying the Times for writing about their story? Fair use would seem to protect me.
And ArtsJournal? I believe we offer a valuable service in curating stories about the arts. Our little headlines and excerpts are intended to throw traffic at stories that might not otherwise get a lot of attention. Without us, fewer readers will see those stories. Editors pitch us to link stories every day. So this is stealing? If we had to pay to link to news publications such as the Times, we’d stop linking to them and we’d concentrate on finding other content. And this is the real problem for the traditional press. When they were the only sources, they could dictate the terms. The proliferation of other content has diminished their power, and walling themselves off from the rest of the web will only hasten their downward business spiral.
One last point. I will say that it does seem to me that sites like Huffington have been crossing a line in recent months. Their excerpts are now often so long that there’s no reason to click the link to see the original story. This does seem like they’re appropriating stories in a way that offers no benefit to the source. As a daily user of the site, I find the long excerpts annoying (I’d prefer to see the complete original).
I understand HufPo wants to inflate its page views. In the long run though, I think this policy damages them – from the reader side, it forces extra navigation to get to the sources, and from the publisher side it cuts down the amount of traffic HufgfPo could send.