As we rebuild our economy, I do hope we keep in mind the value of openness, especially in industries that have rarely had it. Whether it’s in health care reform or energy innovation, the largest payoffs will come not from what the stimulus package pays for directly, but from the huge vistas we open up for others to explore. 
Monday was the 40th anniversary of the internet. And the text above is from an Op-Ed in that day’s NYT, written by the author of R.F.C.1, the very first permanent record of its development. It was indeed an exercise in openness, paradoxically enough. I was there for some of it, along the edges, working as a civilian for the Canadian Navy. We depended critically, for example, on Graphic User Interface (GUI) software developed on Multics by Ford researchers who gave it to us for free, and they (and the rest of the community) received PL/I code improvements that we returned to the collective. The net result was extended into Unix and C, among many other benefits without which today’s world would be hard to envision.
Monday also marked the start of another discussion, this one an effort to enrich the business model of America’s newspaper industry by better protecting their intellectual property rights.
Taking aim at the way news is spread across the Internet, The Associated Press said on Monday that Web sites that used the work of news organizations must obtain permission and share revenue with them, and that it would take legal action against those that did not.
It has probably not escaped the notice of Doomers that what I have just done is a clear example of what AP is credibly threatening to suppress. Indeed our customary way of following stories like this would seem to put us on a collision course with them. How can we balance intellectual property rights, my right to free speech and the public’s right to benefit from the efforts of us both?
AP was hardly going to target a site like Housing Doom, they would have just looked silly. So their #1 target was Google. The search engine giant is the news aggregator par excellence and, let’s face it, the principal enabling tool in my years-long study of US mortgage finance. Just about every researching blogger depends critically on the search sector every day. However, Google itself is obviously trying to do the right thing by content providers, as their CEO Eric E. Schmidt was at pains to point out  in his keynote speech to a newspaper publisher’s conference yesterday. Indeed, the timing of AP’s attack the day before could hardly have been a coincidence.
Any open controversy reverberated little more than a soggy newspaper hitting a doorstep. Mr. Schmidt’s speech closing the annual meeting of the Newspaper Association of America here was a lengthy discourse on the importance of newspapers and the challenges and opportunities brought about by technologies like mobile phones.
His speech was followed by polite questions from industry executives that only briefly touched upon a perennially sore point: whether the use of headlines and snippets of newspaper stories on Google News is “fair use” under copyright law or a misappropriation of newspaper content.
So on the third day of this controversy, the biggest players seem to be settling into a long delicate struggle over great piles of money. But “when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” Bloggers like us are caught in the middle, left to comment, analyze, and occasionally express outrage.
After failing to understand how to squeeze money through the Internet’s series of tubes, Associated Press Chairman “Willie Dean” Singleton is now shaking his fist at anyone that dares to mention one of its articles. Here’s why the venerable news organization’s approach will only make it more vulnerable to online news.
Traditional news organizations relished the days when it had one-way flow of information into people’s homes. They didn’t have to worry about just anyone discussing their ideas or challenging them in public.
The Internet has opened up millions of outlets where individuals can share their view at a very low cost of entry. It turns out that people have truly insightful views on the world around them and want to learn and share the latest news.
A lot of electrons    … (many more) … have already been shed on this issue since AP raised the temperature earlier this week. And I’ve got some pretty serious sympathy for creator’s rights. After all, my kid brother authored a key manifesto in this area of intellectual property over 20 years ago. That’s one reason I was especially interested in this post  that pointed out that AP itself is an aggregator of sorts.
I’m not going to sweat AP’s search for rules of engagement for one simple reason (Techmeme, AP statement): I link to the real source material, which more often than not is a press release. On any given day you can easily bypass AP. And if the AP wants to find a better subscriber business model it needs to adhere to two words: Add value. Is AP trying to protect its “industry’s content” or PR Newswire’s?
Getting paid for valuable electrons is a tough and unsolved problem. In the context of computer software, I spent a frustratingly large proportion of my career managing licenses and trying to do the right thing by the folks who were supplying us with intellectual property. Indeed, towards the end of my career I was managing BitKeeper seats at our site, including e-mails back and forth with Larry McVoy and his staff. That particular suite of software was a wonderful product, but Larry never really figured out how to supply his constituency and feed his family at the same time. The players in AP vs Google need to review the disasterous outcome of that effort and the attending flame wars before they get too deep into shooting news aggregators. There Be Dragons.
————————: "How the Internet Got Its Rules", by Stephen D. Crocker, New York Times, April 6, 2009. : "A.P. Seeks to Rein in Sites Using Its Content", by Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times, April 6, 2009. : "Google Insists It’s a Friend to Newspapers", by Miguel Helft, New York Times, April 7, 2009. : "AP chief threatens to take its content and go home", by David Jeyes, Blorge, April 7, 2009.
: "A.P. to Take On Web Aggregators", Fausta’s blog, April 6, 2009. : "Associated Press Fights Web News Piracy: ‘We Can No Longer Stand By And Watch Others Walk Off With Our Work’ ", by Elliot Spagat, Huffington Post, April 6, 2009. : "Associated Press: Shut Up, Internet", by Owen Thomas, Gawker, April 6, 2006. : "AP eyes news aggregators; Risks exposing its lack of value add", by Larry Dignan, ZDNet, April 6, 2009.
# Jason Montgomery:
April 7th, 2009>
Wow, I can’t work out whether John McLeod’s comment is spam or a real comment…