Last week the Associated Press announced it would be developing some kind of online news registry to control use of news content. From AP’s press release:
The registry will employ a microformat for news developed by AP and which was endorsed two weeks ago by the Media Standards Trust, a London-based nonprofit research and development organization that has called on news organizations to adopt consistent news formats for online content. The microformat will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational “wrapper” that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.
The registry also will enable content owners and publishers to more effectively manage and control digital use of their content, by providing detailed metrics on content consumption, payment services and enforcement support. It will support a variety of payment models, including pay walls.
It was hard to make sense of this, so I went looking for more information. AP posted a diagram of the system, which only adds to the confusion — your satisfaction with the diagram will be inversely proportional to your knowledge of the technology.
As far as I can tell, the underlying technology is based on hNews, a microformat for news, shown in the AP diagram, that was announced by AP and the Media Standards Trust two weeks before the recent AP announcement.
Unfortunately for AP, the hNews spec bears little resemblance to AP’s claims about it. hNews is a handy way of annotating news stories with information about the author, dateline, and so on. But it doesn’t “encapsulate” anything in a “wrapper”, nor does it do much of anything to facilitate metering, monitoring, or paywalls.
AP also says that hNews ” includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online”. This may sound like a restrictive DRM scheme, aimed at clawing back the rights copyright grants to users. But read the fine print. hNews does include a “rights” field that can be attached to an article, but the rights field uses ccREL, the Creative Commons Rights Expression Language, whose definition states unequivocally that it does not limit users’ rights already granted by copyright and can only convey further rights to the user. Here’s the ccREL definition, page 9:
Here are the License properties defined as part of ccREL:
- cc:permits — permits a particular use of the Work above and beyond what default copyright law allows.
- cc:prohibits — prohibits a particular use of the Work, specifically affecting the scope of the permissions provided by cc:permits (but not reducing rights granted under copyright).
It seems that there is much less to the AP’s announcement than meets the eye. If there’s a story here, it’s in the mismatch between the modest and reasonable underlying technology, and AP’s grandiose claims for it.