Those of you who have never owned a mercury thermometer and a tiled floor at the same time probably won’t get this but the Associated Press campaign to “protect” news content is the online equivalent of trying to pick up mercury after you drop the glass thermometer. It’s virtually impossible to pick it all up and maddening to try. The AP and the news industry won’t be able to pick up all of the ways news content is used, even with the most sophisticated tagging or other technologies. And even if they manage to do so, they won’t be able to stop it all.
Who’s the target? Not just Google (NSDQ: GOOG), which plays the role of lightening rod in this issue. Rupert Murdoch said a lot at The Cable Show last week but his stance on Google got some of the biggest attention and is still rippling through, aided by Dow Jones Editor-in-Chief Robert Thomson’s remarks to The Australian calling “certain” websites “parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet.” (Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt gets his chance today as the closing keynote at the Newspaper Association of America conference in San Diego. Streaming live audio should be here at 1 p.m. eastern.)
AP and others already have sued aggregators; they don’t need a campaign of any sort for that. This is about content control across the board — the big targets because it might bring in more revenue, the smaller ones because it might make the other content more valuable. The trick is to find a way to do it all without damaging web traffic and without looking like big media is stomping on the small guys. Remember how well AP’s efforts to manage blog excerpts went last summer? AP’s Sue Cross told me “what we’re really talking about here is much broader use, commercialization of news that is scraped” but Dean Singleton mentioned setting the “rules of engagement” when I asked what would happen to us. Some people won’t follow those rules no matter what; it’s up to AP and its members to find ways to encourage the rest without being heavy handed or risking irrelevance beyond its member and client sites.