The 'Creative' Technology Behind The AP's News Registry

from the magic-beans dept

The Associated Press' attempt to DRM the news is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, but its claims for the news registry's capabilities seem pretty misguided, once you examine the technology behind it (the "magic DRM beans"). Ed Felten dug into the details of the registry's microformat, hNews, which the AP announced a few weeks earlier, and here's where it gets really interesting: the hNews rights field is based on the Creative Commons Rights Expression Language (ccREL).

If the AP thinks it'll be able to build its "digital permissions framework" with Creative Commons technology, it's in for a letdown.

I'm not sure if I'm "allowed" to quote the press release, but this is how it describes the news registry:
[It] will tag and track all AP content online to assure compliance with terms of use. The system will register key identifying information about each piece of content that AP distributes as well as the terms of use of that content, and employ a built-in beacon to notify AP about how the content is used[...]

The registry will employ a microformat... [that] will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational "wrapper" that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.

The registry also will enable content owners and publishers to more effectively manage and control digital use of their content, by providing detailed metrics on content consumption, payment services and enforcement support. It will support a variety of payment models, including pay walls.
Microformats provide a syntax for expressing machine-readable licensing metadata in the HTML of a web page. ccREL was intentionally developed so that others could innovate freely on top of it, but the AP is trying to use it for something it's simply not designed to do -- "protect" and control. The Creative Commons has responded, explaining that ccREL is a tool for rights expression, not rights enforcement. (That doesn't mean the AP isn't allowed to try this, but it's not going to work very well... it's like trying to lock a door with posters.) Felten described the AP's claims for the microformat as much ado about nothing, saying "the hNews spec bears little resemblance to AP's claims about it," and the Creative Commons clarification echoed the point:
Microformats and other web-based structured data, including ccREL, cannot track, monitor, or generally enforce anything. They're labels, i.e. Post-It notes attached to a document, not locked boxes blocking access to the content.
There's no "encapsulating" or "wrappers" -- it's just annotation.

This ecosystem of technology is about rights expression, not enforcement, and it's more about telling people what you can do than what you can't. There are tools built on top of Creative Commons technology, like FairShare, that "track and monitor" usage of content across the web, but these are search engine tools (similar to Google Alerts) rather than any sort of "built-in beacon." Other tools, like Tynt's Tracer (which Creative Commons blog uses), use javascript to append attribution and licensing information when you copy/paste, but that's hardly a "wrapper." These tools are based on the idea of granting permission, not requesting it. Participation is not enforced; anyone can remove or adjust metadata before reposting HTML, Tracer's attribution is just plain text that can be changed (as I did when quoting the blog here), and FairShare can't actually stop anyone from posting your content. These tools are based on a decentralized, permissive view of the web; they aren't designed to create centralized registries and exert control.

If you re-read the AP's description of the technology, it sounds a lot less scary, but a lot more hopeless. The tools are designed to convey further rights to users beyond what copyright allows, not further restrictions that limit user rights already granted by copyright law (e.g. fair use). This is a great way of tagging news articles, but it's next to useless as a digital lock. They would be smart to employ this technology to make their content more usable and more valuable, but hoping it's going to help them lock it down will only lead to disappointment.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    lavi d (profile), Aug 6th, 2009 @ 4:58pm

    The registry will employ a microformat... blah, blah, blah

    As a software engineer, I've been here. Someone upstairs asks, "How can we do A?" And you go back to your cube and you work on stuff until you can go back and say, "I think A can be accomplished with B". And you are told, "Build it".

    And you go off happily and start coding. Somewhere along the line, you might find that what you assumed originally isn't going to work, and if you're an ethical guy, you'll voice your doubts.

    Depending on who you work for or where you work, a number of things can happen. One of them is, you may be told, "Make it work"

    So, you go back happily to your cube to pound out some more code. This iteration might occur several times, but if you are ethical and voice your doubts, well, that's all you can do.

    If the people you work for are excessively clueless however, you may end up with something like this News Registry.

    At that point, you might want to look around and see if there aren't some more savvy people you could go work for.

     

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  2.  
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    epc, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 5:39pm

    Perhaps I'm a bit dim, but…

    Is the AP really starting its (misguided) attempt at content licensing/protection by creatively borrowing from another organization’s efforts? Wouldn’t they call that piracy?

     

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  3.  
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    Tek'a R (profile), Aug 6th, 2009 @ 6:15pm

    Re: Perhaps I'm a bit dim, but�

    "professional news people" are allowed to take things from other people.

    In their mind, anything not owned by them is worthless until they report it. And then it is the reporting itself that is important rather then silly things like origins or attributing.

    "taking" anything from professional news people, even if they are Giving it to you, is of course criminal.

     

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  4.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), Aug 6th, 2009 @ 7:19pm

    Re:

    "As a software engineer, I've been here. Someone upstairs asks, "How can we do A?" And you go back to your cube and you work on stuff until you can go back and say, "I think A can be accomplished with B". And you are told, "Build it"."


    Yeah, agreed. If you check out the CC blog post, they begin their criticism with... "while Creative Commons is very sympathetic to the difficulty of explaining technical concepts in a short press release."

    And then, Jonathan Malek, one of the AP developers behind the format, actually leaves a comment. He seems to be pretty reasonable, and I think making a good design decision in incorporating ccREL into the microformat instead of reinventing the wheel... it's just not going to help do what the AP hopes it will. But nothing else will either.

    It doesn't seem like Malek is the problem.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2009 @ 9:04pm

    Could they be using this tagging as a way to claim DMCA tampering..even though it's not really DRM?

     

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  6.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), Aug 6th, 2009 @ 9:58pm

    Re:

    "Could they be using this tagging as a way to claim DMCA tampering..even though it's not really DRM?"


    You mean, tag it with restrictions on use, and claim that it's anti-circumvention to remove those tags?

    Yeah, the thought crossed my mind too, but I think that'd be a huge stretch. Microformats don't stop you from doing anything, they only notifies you what supposed rules govern usage.

    There's nothing to circumvent.

    The only difference between a microformat and an 'All Rights Reserved' style copyright notice is that it's meant to be machine-readable rather than human-readable. But that's all the metadata is for -- reading. It's just targeted at different readers.

    I'd be really surprised if something was considered a TPM simply because it's machine-readable...

     

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  7.  
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    Jim, Aug 7th, 2009 @ 3:53am

    It doesn't matter how secure the system is or how easy to circumvent, since as we've seen all drm can be bypassed. What worries me is that true security on their content was never the intention, only that they now have the patina of drm that will allow them to make DMCA claims.

     

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  8.  
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    Enrico Suarve, Aug 7th, 2009 @ 4:32am

    Re: Re:

    My guess is they perhaps aren't going to rely on the anti-circumvention laws, I'd guess they are just going to go with something simpler like

    "you took information out of the wrapper which clearly told you it was copyrighted, ergo you knew you were infringing"

    Then slap people with wilfull copyright infringement or something similar

    No idea really but its my best guess of how they could be attempting enforcement - either way I don't think they will be looking at software to enforce, but instead will use lawyers

    Maybe they have looked at DRM and (in my opinion rightly) concluded it is an epic fail and decided to go for something else

     

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  9.  
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    Lachlan Hunt (profile), Aug 7th, 2009 @ 4:52am

    The problem is not with the AP in this case, the problem is the fact that you and a lot of other news sites and blogs jumped to an unsupported conclusion about the AP wanting to use DRM, when they never actually said that, based on a vague and widely misinterpreted flow chart.

    Rather than doing any real investigative reporting before to find out what they were actually doing, someone simply claimed it must be DRM and you ran with it. Now you've finally discovered that it's not DRM at all, it's just a microformat with which there isn't a real problem with, you turn around and start attacking the AP for not really doing what they never actually claimed to be doing in the first place, in order to continue with your propaganda about how the AP is failing at everything they do. While you may have valid points about other issues with the AP, this is simply absurd. This whole article is a strawman argument.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Blaise Alleyne (profile), Aug 7th, 2009 @ 9:24am

    Re:

    "The problem is not with the AP in this case, the problem is the fact that you and a lot of other news sites and blogs jumped to an unsupported conclusion about the AP wanting to use DRM, when they never actually said that, based on a vague and widely misinterpreted flow chart... The whole article is a strawman argument."

    Of course it's not actually DRM. But the aims are very similar -- to "protect" content with some sort of special digital format.

    Take the term "DRM" out of the blog post and it'd still be the same. I based my criticism on the AP's press release and their microformat draft, not on a concept of DRM.

    Forget DRM. If it's based on a microformat, how is the AP news registry supposed to...

    • "assure compliance with terms of use"
    • "employ a built-in beacon to notify AP about how the content is used"
    • "manage and control digital use of their content, by providing detailed metrics on content consumption, payment services and enforcement support"
    • And how is this supposed to support pay walls?

    To paraphrase the post: microformats have little to do with "encapsulating," "built-in beacons," "enforcement support."

    And the diagram makes even less sense once you realize it's just a microformat:

    • "apply protective format to news"
    • "Format protects content everywhere"
    • "the tracking beacon sends signals back to the news registry"
    • "A platform for protect, point and pay"

    A microformat isn't going to "protect" the news. It doesn't protect, it merely expresses.

    I don't think that's a strawman argument. It's a criticism of their claims for the technology.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2009 @ 10:00am

    Re: Re: Perhaps I'm a bit dim, but�

    ""taking" anything from professional news people, even if they are Giving it to you, is of course criminal."

    Because they deserve to be paid for their work, of course.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2009 @ 10:41am

    maybe we need an add-blocker style plugin for our browsers that can assist us in boycotting these ridiculous, power grubbing corporations.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    another mike (profile), Aug 7th, 2009 @ 10:47am

    i feel sorry for them

    I don't know who it was that first claimed the AP's new tagging was DRM but I think they misunderstood the technology. Heck, it's not even really technology.
    I've seen that diagram and it does make it look like someone at AP is really proud of the new DRM scheme they just bought.
    But hNews isn't DRM; can't even be made to be DRM in that sense. hNews is just added metadata to make the articles machine readable. Just like a META tag on a web page. It makes the page easier to index and share freely.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2009 @ 4:26pm

    Yes, the intent of AP is essentially to apply DRM on all of its content (i know this for a fact, not a guess) but like the author said, it will fail big time because of the reasons he cited; hNews nor ccREL cannot enforce protection of content.

    Unless AP employs some sort of encryption of content prior to distribution this "technology" is just a load of hot air.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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