Monday, July 27, 2009

The APs latest move is like King Canute

The story of King Canute ( or more correctly Cnut) is one every English schoolchild learns as a lesson against the unstoppable tide (and often incorrectly retold as a warning against undue pride).

King Canute was a Viking king of England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden in the early 11th century. The tale goes that his courtiers would flatter him every day, telling him how great and powerful he was. In order to teach them a lesson he took his throne down to the shore and ordered the tide not to come and and wet his robes. Well of course it did, his feet got wet, and he proved his point to his courtiers that he was not all powerful so they should lay off the meaningless praise.

The story is one not only about humility, but it is also about the unstoppable nature of the tide.

The Associated Press' latest move to declare that they are going to single handedly change fair-use laws looks like a similarly futile position. While they are not openly declaring "we're going to change fair-use laws" that is the implication of the statements they have been making.

Their plan is like this - DRM the news (put in markers so they can see where it is syndicated) and then everyone that uses it - even as little as a title and a link - will have to sign a licence with the AP. They are understandably trying to stop the practise of wholesale copies of their content - this is a reasonable thing to fight. But what they say is much more aggressive - they want to stop aggregators like Google even using just a title and login.

This goes to the heart of fair use. I am no lawyer but so far, across a number of cases, reusing the title of an article - and a brief summary - is not considered a breach of copyright.

Linking is the water in the tide. It's at the very heart of how the internet works. Trying to stop linking of content is effectively trying to get the definition of fair use changed in a field where the genie is already out of the bottle. It's a King Canute like move - challenging the internet to not wet the APs robes.

The AP may make some web sites lives a headache for a while. The Huffington Post licenses AP content because it was easier to do it than to fight it as their traffic grew so enormously in the election year. I am sure a number of other major sites will also sign licenses because it will be cheaper than hiring lawyers. But I believe in the end the AP lose the battle ground they are staking out. As TechDirt says:

This has been said before (multiple times) but you don't rescue your business model by "protecting" against what people want to do. You don't rescue your business model by wasting resources trying to hold back what people want to do. You rescue your business by providing more value and figuring out a way to monetize that value. Putting bogus DRM on news does none of that. It only hastens failure.

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