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The AP and Copyright on the Web

The New York Times has an article about the Associated Press (AP) trying to gain more control over material that it distributes [1]. The article is not clear on the details.

One noteworthy fact is that the AP apparently don’t like search engines showing snippets of their articles. This should however be an issue for the organisations that license the AP content and redistribute it (newspapers etc), they can use a robots.txt file on their web server to prevent search engines from showing snippets of their content – then once their traffic drops dramatically they can threaten to boycott AP if they can’t do things properly. Speaking for myself the majority of the articles I read on major news sites come from Google results, if they stop Google from indexing AP content then I will read a lot less of it. The end of the article says that there is some sort of battle in Europe between Google and newspapers. Has Google stopped respecting robots.txt? How can this be a problem, if someone copies the entire article you can sue them and you can ask Google not to index your site. That should cover it.

The AP will be going after sites that copy large portions of articles, but this is not news at all. I often see web sites copy my blog content in ways that breach the license terms. As I’m not well equipped to deal with such people I usually try to find an instance of the same splog (spam blog) copying articles from a major news site and report it to employees of the news organisation. They can often get the splogs shut down, sometimes rather quickly.

They are apparently after SEO, they want to get the top entries in search engines for their articles and not have a site that paraphrases the article or quotes it. I don’t think that my blog posts which paraphrase and quote from mainstream media articles are likely to do that, but the newspapers have to deal with the fact that when Slashdot and other popular sites reference their articles then they will lose on SEO. They should be happy that they can win most of the time.

Brendan Scott has a rather harsh take on this [2] which he unfortunately has not explained in any detail. The people who write the news articles for AP get paid for their work and then AP needs to get paid to run a viable business – which is in the public interest. It may be that the AP are doing something really bad, but the New York Times article that Brendan cites doesn’t seem to support any such claim.

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