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AP's industry initiative, developed in conjunction with the Media Standards Trust, Value Added News, occupies similar territory, and is currently being tested on AP's own stories. But AP is also one of the members of ACAP.

"Publishers are for the most part content with copyright law as it stands"

AP claims that VAN will "make it easier for readers to find articles from more established news providers amid the ever-expanding pool of content online", and that its tags are "a nutritional label for your news". But VAN does also convey information about copyright and permitted use. ACAP is more explicitly presented as an aid to copyright enforcement. In a blog post the organisation quotes the Hamburg Declaration, and stresses that it is a call for improvements to mechanisms for IP protection on the internet, rather than a call for new laws: "In our experience in ACAP, publishers are for the most part content with copyright law as it stands... ACAP is, in a transparent and open way, creating tools so that existing copyright law - and the licences that depend on its operation - can work in a machine-to-machine way without needing a human somewhere in the middle."

But they would say that, wouldn't they? And tools for enforcement clearly do imply enforcement. But it's still some distance from demanding a law to control online news access - ACAP, the Hamburg signatories and AP are essentially trying to control how their property is used on the Internet, and the tools that they're proposing are in some senses similar in nature and intent to Creative Commons' plans for automating copyright, licensing and ownership details. Is it therefore possible that AP and ACAP are evil and grasping, but that Creative Commons is not? How does that work?

Recent events suggest that Creative Commons is well-meaning, but pushing a fatally flawed system that can't be fixed via the wisdom of crowds, whereas AP and ACAP should at least be able to succeed in producing accurate tags, metadata and RDFa (up to a point - this gets a lot harder when you start claiming to own facts via the hot news doctrine).

But where does that get them? ACAP seems to see the way forward as consisting of getting Google the search engines to recognise it, and to get legislators to apply pressure to Google the search engines in order to make this happen. This is where the notion of "European publishers" (and AP) wanting a law to control the internet comes in. But as they say, they don't want any new laws, they just want mechanisms that help enforce the laws we've got more effectively.

Ultimately if ACAP was widely adopted by Google the search engines and medium-to-large web publishers, then we would to an extent have 'HTML that says no', but that wouldn't be DRM, and would still leave scope for outlaws and refuseniks to just ignore the metadata.

This also applies to AP, which is testing some of its technology now, and intends to roll out a news registry in November. The AP release on this hits all the wrong buttons; AP will bundle its stories in "an 'informational wrapper' that will include a built-in beacon to monitor where stories go on the Internet" and the registry "will track electronic tags applied to the stories" and the "beacon will send information to the AP's registry where the cooperative's [AP is a cooperative] content is accessed."

It's almost as if AP is trying to make Jeff Jarvis' head explode

Creeped out yet? It's almost as if AP is deliberately trying to make Jeff Jarvis' head explode. But rewind - this is not DRM, it's metadata, or similar, designed to be read by machines, not humans. Humans can still quote, steal or link to AP words without necessarily having anything to do with any wrapper AP ships them in. There may still be legal consequences depending on what the humans are doing with these words, and how blatantly, but these consequences will not be unleashed by some beacon bug phoning home.

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