AP to Restrict Some Content

August 12, 2009

An eager beaver reader of the addled goose’s Web log sent me a link to “Why the Associated Press Plans to Hold Some Web Content Off the Wire”. The author is Zachary M. Seward, and the source is the Nieman Journalism Lab. (I assume that this is an outfit similar to Google’s Lab.) The story reports that owners—oops, members—of the AP will not be permitted to publish some AP content on their Web sites. The idea is that the owners—oops again, members—would link to content that resides on an AP repository. You will have to read this write up yourself. The words “confidential” and other legal sounding words are used in the document. These cause the addled goose to shed some feathers. There is also a reference to “link value”, a term which seems to refer to Google’s method of determining ranking in a search result list.

Several questions flitted through the addled goose’s tiny brain:

First, the AP is owned by its members or at least that is what I thought when Barry Bingham Jr. explained the relationship to me in 1980 or 1981. If the AP is owned by members, why can’t a member do what he or she wishes with the content produced by the organization he or she owns? I suppose the notion is similar to the home owner’s association which restricts what a home owner can do. Maybe this is more like the owner of a mall, which operates as an independent entity with regard to certain rules and regulations. Tenants—oops, members—give up some rights for the benefits the mall delivers. Maybe the mall analogy is infelicitous. The malls not far from Harrod’s Creek have fallen on hard times but I suppose the mall owner will continue to exercise its legal suzerainty over Trixie’s Nails Shoppe.

Second, what happens to an owner—oops, member—who gets out of line. The likelihood of the AP finding another outfit willing to pay for ownership—oops, membership—seems as if it would be time consuming and expensive to replace a fallen owner—oops, member. If that owner—oops, member—is a big gun outfit struggling to keep its powder dry, will there be a legal dust up?

Third, will the Internet users who read a high value content story somewhere expend the energy to summarize, reference, or describe that story? Posting such a summary may require the AP to defend its conceptual and fungible turf. What if the offender is a high school student? What if the alleged violator is an errant blogger?

In short, I applaud the AP for putting on its thinking cap. However, if Mr. Seward’s write up is understood by me and accurate, I think there will be some interesting consequences of this action.

Stephen Arnold, August 12, 2009


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