Associated Press Prepares Fall Initiative to ‘Reclaim’ Its Content

By Andrew Gauthier 

For the past few months the Associated Press has been firing back at the online entities it believes have been using its content inappropriately. Now, it appears they have a plan.

Since Wednesday, Nieman Journalism Lab‘s Zachary Seward has been posting the latest developments in the ongoing AP content drama. Seward got his hands on a memo sent to a select group of AP executives and board members in late July, which details the changes the news wire service is planning for the fall.

The memo explains the AP’s intention to “limit or prevent redistribution of the kinds of information AP provides uniquely to ensure that hypersyndication does not drive down its value,” and describes plans to build “landing pages,” which Seward thinks “could rival Wikipedia’s search results [and] amount to a brilliant SEO play.” The mysterious “tracking beacon” for monitoring content usage and licensing, will likely be JavaScript embedded in a site’s background.

The AP has been talking up plans to reclaim their content for months now. In recent press releases (below), the company elaborated on its plan to address what they consider the wrongful misappropriation of their news content by news aggregators (like Google News), and blogs (like Gawker), who often include AP headlines, images, excerpts and links to full articles on their sites, without paying the membership fees that AP charges to its clients (approximately 1700 news outlets).

The AP’s complaints have baffled many, but Google may be the most perplexed. Google News has had an established partnership with the AP for nearly two years. In response to an AP press release in April that asserted “misappropriation online,” Google offered a simple rebuttal on its blog, “It is our policy to allow any… newspaper or wire service, to remove their content from our index–all they have to do is ask us or implement simple technical standards such as robots.txt or metatags.”

Here’s a brief history of AP’s dubious relationship with online news outlets:

8/31/07: Google starts to officially host AP content on its network.

4/6/09: AP issues press release describing system for tracking use and misuse of its content online.

7/23/09: AP issues press release with further details, and grants the NYTimes an interview with chief executive Tom Curley, who said, “If someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and we’re going to do that.”

7/28/09: AP tells reporter it will no longer grant interviews or discuss the content-tagging plan. Spokesman declares, “For the moment, we’re done.”

8/4/09: Reuters president Chris Ahearn calls for collaboration on his blog. “Let’s stop whining… Let’s get online publishers, search engines, aggregators, ad networks, and self-publishers (bloggers) in a virtual room and determine how we can all get along. I don’t believe any one of us should be the self-appointed Internet police…”

The entire AP memo “Protect, Point, Pay–An Associated Press Plan for Reclaiming News Content Online” can be found here.