It has now been nearly 24 hours since Mark Buehrle threw his no-hitter, and my euphoria is slowly being replaced by the reality that there are other things going on in the world. Hopefully you don’t mind, but I am going to step slightly off-topic here to cover a story that could be very important in the weeks and months ahead.Â
However, if all you want is Midwest sports news, here are a few relevant links for you:
- Cardinals and A’s complete deal for Matt Holliday — (ESPN)
- Dewayne Wise rewarded for amazing catch with leadoff spot in Game 1 of White Sox-Tigers double-header — (Yahoo!)
- Should the Vikings punt on Fave and go after Vick? — (Pro Football Talk)
Okay, now let’s get back to the original intent of the story: the new policy announced by the AP regarding its attempts to protect content. Â If you have not heard about it, let me quickly summarize it in this way: at some point in the next year, it is quite possible that I would have to pay some sort of fee to the AP if I wanted to link to its stories as I’ve done with the sites above.
Yes, I would have to pay the AP for the privilege of driving them the traffic that I work hard to attain.
Or something like that.
Honestly, it’s not all that clear. What is clear is that the Associated Press is leading the charge of mainstream media and newspaper sites working every angle possible to stop the revenue hemmoragging that has been occurring in their world. And let me state for the record: I am all for online reform that will allow organizations like the AP and newspapers to create healthier and more diverse revenue models. After reading about the AP’s latest strategy, however, I’m not quite sure exactly what their plan is.
First, let’s go to the New York Times, where Richard Perez-Pena wrote about the AP’s plan after interviewing the news organization’s president and CEO.Â
A.P. Cracks Down on Unpaid Use of Articles on the Web — (New York Times)
Tom Curley, The A.P.â€™s president and chief executive, said the companyâ€™s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines likeÂ Google, Bing andÂ Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.
Asked if that stance went further than The A.P. had gone before, he said, â€œThatâ€™s right.â€ The company envisions a campaign that goes far beyond The A.P., a nonprofit corporation. It wants the 1,400 American newspapers that own the company to join the effort and use its software.
â€œIf someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and weâ€™re going to do that,â€ Mr. Curley said. The goal, he said, was not to have less use of the news articles, but to be paid for any use.
Essentially, the AP wants to receive revenue when another site uses their content. Fair enough. I have no problem with that. In fact, as I said, I am in favor of it.
As a blogger, not a first-hand reporting journalist, I rely on organizations like the AP, newspapers, and other mainstream sites to publish the news that I have neither the time nor the resources to investigate on my own. My responsibility as a blogger, as I see it, is to find the news that is of interest to me and this site’s readers, package it in a unique way, and offer my opinion or commentary on it. And if I’ve used someone else’s work as a catalyst for my own, it is my ethical duty as a blogger to link to that content and encourage my readers to visit the original source. I take that very seriously, and do it 99.9% of the time (with the .01% being reserved for rare honest mistakes like forgetting to add a link somewhere, or messing up the address).
Keep in mind, web sites that comment on published news stories are protected by something called “Fair Use.” This means that, as I’ve done above with the New York Times article, I can publish the title, excerpt, and link to another site during the course of commenting about it. There are no set-in-stone rules regarding how much of the article I can use, but honestly there is a good chance that I’m pushing the limits by including a three paragraph excerpt. I explain this to give you a frame of reference for the rule.
Fair use also covers the use of pictures and other media, but I don’t want to get too bogged down discussing the minutaie of it all here. To learn more about the general ideas being fair use, go straight to the source itself.Â
Needless to say, there is an important and wide-ranging debate that has been ubiquitously raging for years now regarding what is fair use and what isn’t. Â And as the NY Times article points out, news organizations have been reluctant to try fair use cases in court because they fear losing and setting a precedent that could harm them even further. But the AP appears poised to push the limits on the fair use law, and the only logical resolution is for this all to be hashed out with a landmark ruling on the matter from the courts at some point in the not-to-distant future.
The problem with the AP’s new policy is that it remains relatively obtuse. The AP says that it plans to embed certain software in each piece of its content that will track how and where it is used. In an article at PC World, Ian Paul attempts to describe what the software will be goaled at accomplishing:
Murky Waters: The AP’s New Content Protection Plan — (PC World)
Paul goes onto explain some of the complexities inherent in the issue, and some of the apparent contradictions in the explanations being offered by the AP.
Any use? Is the AP expecting payment even if you simply link to their article or quote the headline? It’s not clear, and that’s the point. For example, the AP’s Jean Seagrave, senior vice president for global product development, told InformationWeek the news organization is not going after bloggers, but sites that engage in “large-scale copying of AP content.”
Is it just me, or does it sound like Curley and Seagrave are talking about adopting two different policies? What’s going on here? Is the AP going to pursue every blogger who throws in an AP link, or just those fringe sites that post full versions of AP articles?
The questions that Paul raises are apt, and the answers will define the scope of the impact that the AP’s policy will have moving forward. And make no mistake: assuming this is not a bluff by the AP (and it’s not), this will have a big impact.
But how big of an impact does the AP want to have?
The essence of the problem is this, boiled down to its simplest form: I need mainstream reporting to have factual foundations for the stories upon which I offer commentary. Sites like the AP offer that factual foundation. When I write said stories, and link out to the sites that I use as sources, I drive traffic to them. Am I siphoning off traffic that would otherwise go to the AP or whatever media source I cite? Or am I increasing their traffic by creating my own little corner of the web universe, packaging information uniquely, and driving my traffic their way by citing their reports?
I’m not sure that there is really any way to answer that question other than theoretically. What I do know is that I drive a lot of click-throughs to the sources of my articles, and I am sure that other bloggers experience the same thing. So while this site generates revenue from the pageviews we receive based on our original commentary of first-hand sources, we also drive revenue for the cites we source by driving pageviews their way. In this sense, we do pay for our use of the content indirectly.
Now, let me draw an important line of demarcation so that it does not get lost. If I were to reprint an article in its entirety, I absolutely should pay for that right. Driving revenue exclusively off the work of someone else is a clear violation of copyright law. There is no argument there. And the AP already has programs in place for this. Sites like Google News and ESPN.com pay a licensing fee to the AP to syndicate their content. This will continue, and should, and is not the crux of the debate I am dealing with here.
But the sense many are getting from the AP’s latest statements is that, for instance, search engines like Google should pay a fee for returning a title and 160-character excerpt of an AP story in their search engine results. Again, in this example, the AP essentially wants Google to pay them money for driving its own hard-earned search traffic the AP’s way. To me, this sounds like a quintessential example of biting the hand that feeds you.
Ask any website that drives more than a handful of visitors a day what their largest source of traffic is, and I would venture to guess that 95-98% of them would say search engines. And since Google gets the largest market share of search volume, they are almost always the #1 referring source of traffic for any site. (And if this is not the case, chances are the site owner hasn’t the foggiest idea about the simple concepts of basic search engine optimization, or has their site no-indexed).
Should the AP really require Google, or any site, to pay it for linking that site’s visitors to AP content when that site’s usage falls under the protection of fair use? Maybe I am missing something, but with the way information consumption has evolved online, in its current ultra-fragmented state, I just cannot see that as ending up providing a net gain in the long-term.
I have long maintained that the AP and similar organizations need to focus more on the following areas to help leverage the power of the Internet into more potent revenue models:
- Understand and implement better search engine optimization practices and use the power of search engines for their benefit. The AP and other mainstream sites have more search engine power, based on their link power, than most (if not all) blogs. However, many mainstream sites do not do an effective job of optimizing their content. This is not a complete panacea by any means, but it would be HUGELY beneficial.
- Create more of a cooperative relationship with blogs, as opposed to the current antogonistc relationship that often exists. For instance, the AP could easily figure out that we cover the White Sox a lot here at MSF. If they set up a system to ping me anytime a White Sox news story went up, I would be much more likely to create a piece of content around that story in a timely fashion. Then, I would end up driving a portion of my daily traffic to their story. Bloggers do this with eachother all the time and it works very well. I do not understand why there is not more cooperation between blogs and the mainstream media. I realize that we all are essentially competing for a finite number of information consumers on a daily basis. But by making cross-linking an even more integrated practice, the overall number of pageviews can increase.Â
Does anyone see a flaw in my reasoning here? If so, please respond in the comments. I do not profess to have all the answers, but this is a topic upon which I have read and ruminated about at length. I feel like these ideas make sense, but am open to an informed discussion.
Regardless, this is a story and a topic that every blogger and producer of web content needs to understand and follow. The Internet has long been described as the “Wild Wild West” and for good reason. There will unquestionably be many changes, or at least attempts at changes, that will be occurring in the impending months and years. And, as I stated above, there should be. A functioning blogosphere, and more importantly a functioning democracy, needs a healthy media to be successful.
As bloggers, we can’t just dig in our heels and hold onto rigid and righteous notions that we can do what we want, when we want, how we want. Somehow, the AP and other sources of such first-hand reporting need to protect their revenue streams and create new ones to reestablish their financial health and viability. A failure in this happening would be detrimental to all of us.
But at the same time, I think the mainstream media needs to look internally as much as it looks externally for solutions to the problem. They absolutely need to protect their content from unfair use, but they also must exhibit the agility to exist in the changing landscape of information consumption online.
More people having a voice is a good thing, and it makes information consumption a more rich, rewarding, and educational experience for readers. It also, in my opinion, increases the total pie of pageviews that are out there. If we all embrace this idea, and then work together to find mutually-beneficial solutions, we can make the Internet less “Wild Wild West” and more amenable to the goals and needs of everyone involved.
I actually applaud the AP for taking the lead in searching for solutions to the grave problems facing the mainstream media. However, more definition is needed for how those solutions will be implemented, what their true goals are, and how realistic their strategies are for creating the long-term positive impact they seek.
In the end, my final thought is this: we all have turf that we are trying to proect, but is it possible that the best way to do so is to find new ways to cooperatively share said turf and, from an aggregated standpoint, grow it? I think it is.
Now it’s up to everyone who has a stake in the debate to be proactive in offering realistic solutions.
[Editor’s Note: I feel compelled to add the following statement to establish my credibility because of what I assume will be the presumptions of many who come here thinking it’s “just a sports blog.”
I put my heart and soul into running Midwest Sports Fans because I love writing and love sports. But during the day I do actually emerge from the protective womb and cheetos stained floor of my mom’s basement to a “real” job. I am an account executive and blogging strategist for one of the most forward-thinking and progressive social media marketing companies in Dallas. And while I don’t consider myself to be any kind of omniscient expert on all social media topics, I do have a fairly strong basis of experience and research upon which I based the article above.
My apologies to anyone who wishes I’d stick just to sports talk, but I can’t avoid the obvious importance of this issue for everyone, including sports bloggers, who produce content online. This site gets a fairly steady amount of traffic, so I figured it was the best place to galvanize a lively and highly relevant discussion. My thanks and appreciation to those who choose to participate.]