How Reuters Should Be Responding To The AP's Suicide

from the step-up,-folks dept

Earlier today we wrote about the AP's plans to DRM the news, explaining what a backwards plan it was. The story is getting lots of play elsewhere, with many pointing to a NY Times report, where the AP's CEO Tom Curley makes some amazing statements:
"If someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and we're going to do that," Mr. Curley said. The goal, he said, was not to have less use of the news articles, but to be paid for any use.
First of all, someone should sit Curley down and explain to him fair use -- a concept of which he appears to be ignorant. This whole exercise seems to be an attempt to pretend that you can take away fair use rights via metadata. You can't. But, more importantly (from a business perspective) this shows a near total cluelessness on how Google works. Yes, Google built a multi-billion dollar business out of "keywords" but they did so not by forcing people to pay, but by adding value to people who did pay. That's the opposite of what Curley's trying to do. If you can't understand the difference between positive value and negative value, you should not be the CEO of a major organization.

Meanwhile, Ryan Chittum, at the Columbia Journalism Review says that people should chill out because the AP isn't going after bloggers, he seems to miss a few points. First, the AP might not be "going after bloggers" now, but it certainly has shown a willingness to do so in the past. At some point, you can bet it will happen again. Furthermore, the AP claims that it's really only going after "wholesale misappropriation." Hmm. How is that defined?
"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."
Dear AP: your RSS feed is for syndicating your stories. If you don't want the content out there, don't syndicate the content!

But, honestly, the bigger issue is that the AP actually thinks that these spam sites rerunning the AP RSS feed (which, I'll note, links to AP stories directly) somehow harms them. These are spam sites at best. The AP claims (totally unbelievably) that such sites are taking "tens if not the hundreds of millions" of revenue away from the AP. Really? Prove it. These are tiny spam sites that get no traffic. They're not making you lose any money. If your entire business can be undermined by someone copying your headline and a snippet of your first sentence from your own RSS feed, then you have failed in business. The AP needs to hire someone who understands basic business tenets, not to mention basic technology, law and economics. The amazing thing is that I've heard from a couple AP reporters who are sickened by this as well, and feel that Curley is destroying the organization. They know this is a huge mistake.

Either way, I'm still wondering why the AP's competitors, such as Reuters and CNN (which is starting a similar wire service) haven't been a lot more vocal in trying to get more sites to look at them as a friendly alternative. We recently noted that Reuters appeared to have a much more clued-in understanding of the internet, and Chris Ahearn, the President of Reuters Media said today: "Reuters stands ready to help those who wish an alternative to the AP." That's definitely a start, but it was just in a Twitter message directed at Jeff Jarvis, rather than a much more outspoken statement. Why not be blatant about it? Post a public statement/blog post/Twitter message/Facebook message etc. that says something like:
Dear internet: We love our friends over at the Associated Press, but we believe they are making a grave mistake in trying to limit linking and fair use of content. This seems to go against the very principles of the internet and the free flow of information, in which we believe. Therefore, we encourage you to link to our work, to paraphrase it and use it to develop your own commentary. We have our RSS feeds out there because we expect you to use them, and we expect you to do great things with them. We believe our content stands on its own in quality, and see no reason to try to hide it or lock it up when we know that through cooperation and sharing we can all build on the information -- and that improves the situation for everyone. We look forward to linking, sharing and conversing with all of you.
It's time for Reuters, CNN or any other news wire to stand up and publicly tell people to switch their links away from the AP and to their own content.

Filed Under: copyright, fair use, journalism, news, rss, wire services
Companies: associated press, cnn, reuthers


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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 27 Jul 2009 @ 6:23pm

    Re: Someone Should Sit Down Masnick & Explain AP is Non-Profit

    Someone Should Sit Down Masnick & Explain AP is Non-Profit

    Quite familiar with that fact, thank you. Not sure how that suddenly gives them the right to ignore fair use or basic business sense. It may be a non-profit, but that doesn't mean they should run it in a way that drives everyone to the competition.

    I think it will be interesting to see how AP does with this, and I wish them well, because news-gathering is work, and it needs to be paid for, just like programming code is paid for, and techdirt.com never questions *that*

    That is untrue. I'm not sure if it makes you feel good to lie, but it won't get you very far. We are quite interested in the cost of creating content. But we recognize basic economics.

    The problem is that the marginal cost is zero. So you can say all you want about the fixed cost, until you recognize that fact, you're not going to have a business.

    DRM isn't the evil thing techdirt imagines, it's just that it's evil *for this class of people* who need free work tools and content from Google to support their consulting and widgeteering businesses.

    Yeah, the public domain/fair use/all creative culture built on the works of others... none of that matters.

    Free speech? Bah! Outdated concept...

    The idea of fair use, i.e. quoting 250 words out of a passage, was not intended to enable people to sell ads on top of the fairly-used material.

    Ha! You should tell the courts that, because they disagree. There are plenty of court rulings that have found that commercial use can be fair use. But why let facts get in the way of a good uninformed anti-Techdirt rant?

    This Free tendentious notion of "fair use" cynically takes that basic notion of sharing without a copyright fee in "fair use" -- and cynically turn it on its head, in order to make not only el-cheapo aggregator sites and spam sites use the links against ads, but all kinds of bloggers grabbing the RSS feed. In fact all of this together does drain away revenue, and the idea that it leads to traffic back to AP or the original sites paying AP like newspapers to view the ads isn't backed by any factual reports. It doesn't do that as anyway can see who has a website and looks at how traffic works.

    Funny, I do have a website and I do see how the traffic works. And you know what? Our RSS feed, republished (with all of our content in full!) drives a TREMENDOUS amount of traffic. But according to you that's impossible. Hmm...

    I'll trust my own eyes thank you very much.

    Besides, if the AP doesn't want people using their RSS feed, why do they offer it? It's a *syndication* system. It's a bit screwed up to then complain that the content you put out for syndication was syndicated, don't you think?

    The AP is a non-profit organization. Yes. It is not some evil imperialist capitalist media magnate. It's a *service*. Other news operations pay per story because they don't have the budget for bureaus and correspondents and editors everywhere. AP then survives on the payment from those articles.

    In other words, they have an unsustainable model. I'm not sure how pretending you can DRM the news is going to change that, but I'm waiting eagerly for you to explain.

    The aggregators and others defeat the simple means of this simple non-profit service from making a living *to cover its costs*

    Bullshit. If that were the case, the AP should do something simple: stop offering an RSS feed and put all its content behind a paywall. But they don't. So what, exactly is the problem?

    The AP has no god-given right to "cover its costs" even if it's a non-profit. It needs to figure out a model that lets it cover its cost, and that means understanding the market conditions it's facing. Pretending that content online can be DRM'd is not understanding its market.

    So it's really quite disgraceful to see a writer on a website making its money off ads, inciting the mob to get commercial sites to kick a non-profit service in the teeth.

    Ha! Wait, it's disgraceful to ask for companies to step up and offer a better service? Because the AP is a non-profit we should all bow down and all competition should stop innovating and stop offering a better product just to let it survive?

    Hell, why didn't you say so. I'll declare Techdirt a non-profit and all other tech and business blogs will need to shut down, so as not to "kick me in the teeth" and to let me go back to "covering my costs."

    Honestly, read what you wrote again. Do you realize how ridiculous you sound right now?

    he nasty tone and level of snark in this article lets me know that this story is like a lot of stories: class warfare, by a class of people who fear loss of their free work tools and "liberation" of other people's content (bloggers and coders).


    Ha! I've got no fear at all. Because if the AP dies, plenty of others will jump in and take its place. Unlike you, it appears I understand economics, so I've got nothing to worry about.

    You, on the other hand, seem to think that economics gets suspended when someone's a "non-profit" and the world magically revolves around them and covers their costs.

    The biggest hole in this argument, however is this very vague and murky and subjective concept, always invoked by those insisting on Free work tools, of "value add". Huh? Could you define that? What is "value added" about paying an ad agency that sells links and key words, as Google does?

    I'm not sure what you mean here. I don't believe Google pays ad agencies at all.

    The revenue for online ads has nowhere near matched what the old paper ads used to be.

    So? So the responsibility of the AP should be to be smarter about its business model, recognizing that the market has changed. If it's really true that so many other publications are "stealing" content (ha!) from the AP, then shouldn't the AP be able to offer a better business model? They sure could, but they've chosen not to.

    Most of the revenue in the Google system seems to accrue to Google itself in a really stunning serflike pyramid where legions of blogger-serfs earn pennies, providing the free tillable land of their blog space for Google to sell ad space for free on. Some miniscule percentage of bloggers can make anything remotely like "a living" from the Adsense. Those buying the ads often get disappointing results except in a very select niche of tech services. Value?

    Yes, we agree. AdSense doesn't provide very much money. But what idiot relies on AdSense to make a living? Hopefully not the AP!

    But if none of these bad arguments sunk this techdirt screed being seized on now by freebies and value-vandalizers destroying the news business, the last argument should: the call for rivals to kick this ostensibly "losing" AP in the teeth and "liberate" and "vandalize" further by offering the RSS headlines for free.

    In your rush to bash me, you seem to have lost your reading comp skills. I never said that anyone should liberate or vandalize the AP at all. I said that Reuters and CNN and others should continue to offer their *own* RSS feeds for free, and make it clear that they're not morons, and welcome people to use their own content.

    That's got nothing to do with vandalizing the AP.

    I'm honestly confused by your claims here. When Burger King offers a sale on the Whopper, is that kicking McDonalds in the teeth? Is your world view so distorted?

    Therefore, while supposedly touting "positive value," Masnick is inciting "negative value" by urging everyone to to liberate and steal moar.

    I said no such thing. So I will end this comment the same way it began: it does you no good to lie, other than to make you look like someone without an argument.

    Please, try again.

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