It’s mine, and you can’t view it

Over the last several weeks I’ve detected an increase in the noise being raised about content ownership. Sure, we’ve all been following the battle between Murdoch and Cablevision. FOX programming has been pulled from some East-Coast Cablevision cable systems because of deadlocked retransmission negotiations.

We could spend an hour hashing out the issues. “It’s my content and you will pay what I think it’s worth to use it” versus, “I have a right to sell your content, and I’ll pay you whatever I think it’s worth.”

What I will say is that politicians and bureaucrats ought to stay the heck out of the process. Of course, Democrat Senators Kerry and Rockefeller were quick to demand that if the FCC doesn’t act, then they’ll ensure that Congress does. Oh boy, that’s sure to be a good solution for everyone — not!

Then we have our ever vigilant FCC Commissioner Copps running around like Chicken Little, crying “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” Copps is the ever-predictable “I’m a hammer and you’re the nail” bureaucrat. His beliefs might be summarized as: More government regulation — good. Marketplace decisions — bad. (Look for more on this topic in an upcoming blog. Hint, raising your taxes to pay for cell phone coverage in the Alaskan outback.)

There is one aspect of the FOX-Cablevision battle that is troubling. That is where FOX cut off access to the network’s content from users from Cablevision domains. While the blockage lasted only a couple of hours, the fiasco kicked the Internet neutrality sleeping dogs, and predictably they immediately began to bark at anyone who would listen. Not smart FOX. You hurt your case.

AP builds toll booth

Two other stories caught my eye that also echo the content ownership issue. The first was from AP, and the second concerns photo rights.

In a speech last Tuesday, AP CEO Tom Curley revealed his company’s plans to regulate the use of news stories. “We’ve stood by while others invent creative, new uses for our news and reap most of the benefit,” Curley said in a speech before the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association in Austin.

Under the plan, AP will establish a clearinghouse that will negotiate licensing for articles/stories, photographs and video produced by participating news organizations. While the organizations would retain original rights, any reuse, repurpose, etc., would be licensed through AP. Think of AP becoming the ASCAP of news. It’s a case of a third party saying, “If you want to read this story, you first have to pay me a dime, or buy a license.”

Curley said the biggest moneymaking opportunity of the plan would be in the licensing of copyrighted content to mobile phones and tablets. “The move to mobile ... will usher in a new golden age for the development for products, if we’re up to the challenge,” he said.

Last year, AP set up a tracking news registry, initially labeled as an attempt to fight piracy. This registry tracks content and its use. The database tracks who is viewing certain content and how often certain companies or experts are mentioned in news stories. With this information, it’s not a huge step to begin charging for access.

Of course, AP isn’t doing this out of the goodness of corporate responsibility. Instead, AP plans on taking the first 20 percent of revenues as an "administrative fee." The company said the "independent clearinghouse" would be operational by year’s end.

The whole idea of AP setting itself up as the chief toll taker for news story usage reminded one blogger of the movie "Blazing Saddles." In the movie, a gang of bad guys, led by Slim Pickens as Taggart, is headed toward the town of Rock Ridge to drive out the homefolks. Along the way, the gang comes across a toll booth located in the middle of the desert. Never mind that Taggart and the cowboys can ride around the toll booth. Instead, he stops and asks his gang if anyone has the correct change.

Does AP really believe that mobile phone users are going to do some form of micropayments for news stories, or that aggregators will pay for access? How many times can you charge for something before the users say, “Enough already. I’m not paying for it again.” AP is building a desert toll booth.

I own all Stonehenge photos

A similar, “No you can’t use it” story comes from England. There, a UK government-backed organization called English Heritage has decided that all photos of Stonehenge belong to the group. English Heritage promotes English heritage (how’d you guess) and manages some historical sites in the UK.

The organization last week sent demand letters to photo sharing and photo stock sites claiming that all images of Stonehenge, “cannot be used for any commercial interest" and that "all commercial interest to sell images must be directed to English Heritage."

Let’s say you are a professional photographer and you take a picture of a Stonehenge rock. Now English Heritage claims they own it. Why? Because it’s a photo of Stonehenge. How crazy is that?

A story from claims it checked with three large US-based stock photo companies and discovered the following:

• Fotolia has 648 images of Stonehenge;

• Dreamstime has 670 photos of Stonehenge; and

• Shutterstock has 737 photos of Stonehenge.

That’s a lot of photos for English Heritage to track and demand payment for their use.

Broadcast Engineering magazine licenses photos from Shutterstock all the time. Should we ever need a stock photo of Stonehenge, we’ll use it however we decide. English Heritage needn’t look for any payments from us.