Getting a handle on the 'content ecosystem'
There has been a lot of blather recently about efforts by traditional content creators (read: newspapers) to extract more payment for uses of their articles on the Web. The typical line of thinking on the newspaper side is, "hey, it costs a lot of money to accurately report, write, edit and publish the news that we provide, and we're not getting paid enough for it by the people who read it."
Others scoff, roll their eyes and say, "stick it out there, get it linked to, slap ads on the page and quit whining."
To which the content providers contend, "we are and it's not covering the bills."
To which the digerati retort, "then do a better job of producing content that matters in a form that is uniquely useful."
So newspapers threaten to stop distributing for free and observers dare them and, well, the sniping has been going this way for years now, with little light and lots of heat.
Now comes new technology and initiatives to better understand in detail just how the news and information that mainstream reporters observe, report, synthesize and write is used and reused in the virtual world.
First there's Attributor and the Fair Syndication Consortium. Attributor looks across the Web and finds use and reuse of content, from fully republished uses to headlines, summaries, even quotations. And they're discovering, they claim, that articles by some mainstream news organizations get reused and republished in their near-complete form five to 10 times in an unauthorized manner for every authorized one. (That doesn't include the brief snippets used by many folks, myself included, who claim 'fair use' because they build on to the work with ideas of their own.)
The Fair Syndication Consortium, spurred by the Attributor guys and made up of papers such as mine, is looking to extract payment for the ads that appear on these other uses of their content. Interestingly they're going after the ad networks for payment, not every individual blogger or aggregator. The idea is that there are a few big ad networks that offer ads for placement on Web sites, (read: Google) and so the consortium wants to take a hefty cut of what these ad networks would otherwise pay infringers.
Regardless of your feelings about the consortium, it can't be a bad thing to know how content evolves in the Internet ecosystem. Knowledge is a good thing.
Clearly content creators also want to leverage this knowledge to recoup the costs of their labor. For instance, I may want to know if I should be rethinking what I consider fair use; if most people only need to read a headline and a summary from my article on some aggregator's site, perhaps I might want a cut of the money they earned on that page. Maybe that's only fair.
That's why another big move is afoot. The Associated Press has just unveiled an initiative they told us newspaper folks about earlier this summer. In conversations with us, they called it, "protect, point, pay" and made it clear they're looking to sign us on to a new service that, like BMI-ASCAP, would protect our content from infringement, help point to our sources as authoratative versions of news and information, and help extract payment where possible.
Incidentally, they're using Attributor's technology to effect all this.
AP paints itself as a friend of traditional news organizations, and indeed, if all they did were were to enforce copyright, facilitate linking Web sites to the original sources of its members' content and provide technology for payment, their request for partners would be an easy call.
The only problem is that AP also reports and writes its own versions of stories we are covering, rewrites our news stories and redistributes and syndicates our news stories and so can be considered a part of the problem as much as part of the solution.
The AP’s primary job is to distribute content. In a content economy, that worked well. In the link economy, what the AP does is a disservice to content because it cuts the links to the source by rewriting news. The AP also translates content from one medium to another, rewriting newspaper stories so they can be read on radio or TV; that, too, cuts the link to the source (and note that rip-and-read has been the worse enemy of original reporting since the invention of broadcast, long before the internet). And the AP adds some original reporting to the ecosystem but it can’t monetize that value in the link economy because to do so would compete with its owner/clients.
Some would call AP a 'frienemy,' and indeed there have been calls for AP to separate its content producing, publishing and distribution business from this new content licensing business if indeed they wish to become the default provider of services to get a handle on the content ecosystem.