Take your ball and go home

My Twitter feed has been abuzz this week with the latest Associated Press temper-tantrum that it will take legal action against Web sites that use its content without permission and without sharing revenue.

My motherboard and LCD on the trusty laptop are fried, so I’ve been unable to sit down till now, which was convenient, because I’ve been having a hard time coming to grips with what AP’s actual beef is.

Someone is doing what you’re unable to, which is to make money off your product, and you want a piece?

Please excuse my French, but um…AP, gimmie a frickin’ break.

Sure, you can’t just cut and paste an AP article into your own site without paying for it. Some do, of course, but that doesn’t sound like what we’re really talking about here.

As Danny Kafka pointed out (AP Shakes Fist at Google, Tells Internet to Get Off Its Damn Lawn), AP chairmain Dean Singleton’s rant was, well, vague.

We’re not talking about wholesale stealing of articles. We’re talking about aggregation of links on the Internet (GASP!), which funnels a metric shit-ton of traffic to your content, i.e. eyeballs on the advertisements.

Here’s the deal: If I link to your story, offer a summary or include your lede to supplement your (ahem) search-engine optimized headline, be thankful for the free marketing or shut your noise hole and go home.

AP is so behind the times that they are years late even joining the blame game. After years of blustering and crucifying others for their own failures, most newspapers have figured out that, “Hey, it sure is nice Google, Digg, Fark, etc., send so much traffic our way.” It’s called search-engine optimization and most on-the-ball web folks are always trying to improve the process.

Ah, but Grant! Google and Yahoo DO host the entire article. So we are talking about cut-and-paste journalistic larceny.

Or are we? Singleton, again, is vague.

The two search-engines have licensing agreements that allow them to host the article whole-hog; AP says they’re doing things the license agreement doesn’t cover.

What? What could they possibly be doing? This just sounds like AP doesn’t understand the Internet. Surprising, I know.

Some funny from Twitter (Gosh I hope these twitterers don’t sue me. I’m a dry stone; don’t even think about it):

  • @cjfeola AP 2 sue blogs & such to overturn fair use, save newspapers. In other news: Fat, stupid dinos sue mammals 
  • @jacklail Let’s spend millions on SEO work and then prevent Google from indexing our sites. Brilliant!


This post may explain some of the logical disconnect: AP execs are clueless about their own YouTube channel. At least someone at AP understands the Internet, but their efforts are being undermined by this latest installment of the “I was sitting on my duff while someone else did something new, let’s find someone to blame” movement.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt seems to agree: Innovate your way out of it. He’s not even sure what the hell Singleton is ranting about. FTA:

“Think in terms of what your reader wants. These are ultimately consumer businesses. If you piss off enough of them you will not have any more, or if make them happy, you will grow them quickly.”

And who are AP’s customers (aside from Google and Yahoo!)? Other newspapers, who for years haven’t been exactly smitten with the service they get. First of all, it’s expensive — all the more evident at a time when news corporations are doing everything they can to turn a profit each quarter by cutting costs.

And, while, AP does a great job with national and international news, frankly, state news sometimes leaves a little to be desired.

A few years ago, when I worked at The Dominion Post (pay to read, a different rant for a different day) in Morgantown, W.Va., we got great copy from the AP reporters in the state, but there weren’t enough of them. What was missing were plenty of stories from member papers around the state.

The Charleston Daily Mail (once a Singleton paper, and where I was an intern one summer) called us up one day and asked if they could run a story they had seen and liked in our paper. They couldn’t find it on the wire. “Sure, just credit us” was the response.

Now newspapers all over the country (including the one I freelance for) are forming content-sharing agreements.

What’s stopping Google et al from not renewing their licensing agreement at the end of the year and just linking to stories hosted on newspapers’ Web sites, as they do with every other news source? As Danny Sullivan says, AP can hide itself from aggregators’ spiders if they so choose.

But AP can’t be that dumb, can it? As Sullivan points out: A bunch of Belgian papers blocked Google aggregation; how well do you think that worked out for ’em?

And if Google can’t link to an AP story hosted on a member paper’s Web site, who’s getting the shaft? The newspaper, who paid for the content but now is prohibited from marketing it.

In short, AP, good luck with all this. Scratch that. I can’t honestly wish you luck, because you should know as well as I do that being slow, dumb and pointing fingers is no way to make money on the Internet, son.

Listen to my friend Jeremy Littau: “…the newspaper industry’s last gasp is to sue Google for driving traffic to their news sites. In other words, the industry doesn’t know how to offer a product people will use or meet the consumer’s needs, but “Can I have some money now?”

I’m sure this all sounds a little harsh. But at a time when the media are dying, what we need are innovative business models that ensure the success of newspapers, not short-sighted attempts to control how your customers use the product you sold them.

Is building an aggregator part of the solution? I don’t know, but it seems a little quixotic to take on Google that way. Still, it’s better than unleashing the lawyers.

Just, please, please don’t ruin fair use in the process.

A short round-up (aggregation!) of other articles about this whole mess:

You can read AP’s own take right here.

About the Author

grant smith
Hi. I’m a freelance journalist and data specialist living in NJ/NYC. I like to play outside.

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