New system to end disputes between Google and newspapers

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Costly legal disputes among online publishers and search engines about the use of content may soon be just a memory thanks to the new access protocol ACAP, a system endorsed by the European Commission which allows content permissions to be automatically communicated to middle-users, such as search engines.

ACAP, the acronym for ‘Automated Content Access Protocol’, is an automated technical solution allowing content permissions to be communicated in a machine-readable manner. 

The developers underline that this is not a blocking technology but a communication tool. Indeed, search engines’ ‘crawlers’ will automatically receive an indication on what they can do with the content, such as whether they can publish it entirely on other pages or use only extracts, or whether there is an expiry date for showing the content.

The European Commission endorses this new technology and “strongly” exhorts Google and the other search engines to use the new protocol, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said.

ACAP is free and can already be used by whoever is interested. “The negotiations among publishers and search engine companies are still ongoing”, explained an expert participating in the biannual Publishers’ Forum, which took place yesterday (6 December) in Brussels.

Commissioner Reding yesterday for the first time publicly supported ACAP, in a speech in front of stakeholders from the sector participating in the Brussels Forum. She considered the use of the new protocol to be a win-win situation “as publishers can link content with authorisations for access and use in a form that can easily be recognised and interpreted by a search engine crawler”.

In the next few weeks, the Commission will publish its strategy paper for content online with the purpose of  “starting a process aimed at facilitating business negotiations and improving legal certainty”, Commissioner Reding said, underlining that “press web sites rank among the most popular on the net, just after the peer-to-peer ones”.

Viviane Reding, EU Information Society Commissionersaid during the Publishers Forum: "I am an enthusiastic follower of self-regulation to prevent or supplement legal provisions. I also believe that new technologies can support rights management and enforcement. Therefore, I am following the Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP) project – as one of many projects to ensure respect of copyright – with high interest and I very much hope that companies offering search engines will cooperate with ACAP".

Jean-Christophe Conti, vice president of Yahoo!
Search Marketing, Europe, said during the Forum that "it is important to create value for both content providers and transmission services. You need content but also you need to realise that content is everywhere".

Kees Spaan, 
European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA) vice-president, responded to the Yahoo! vice president by saying: "Search engines are taking attention away from newspapers. You have taken us down a road without asking if we want to come".

Francisco Pinto Balsemao, European Publishers Council (EPC)  president, added to Spaan's comments: "The recent activities of search engines have created the conditions in which there is no long term incentive for the publishers to promote their content".

Last February, the Brussels Court of First Instance ruled that Google's practice of syndicating newspaper headlines along with short snippets of text to link to articles constituted an infringement of Belgian copyright law (see EURACTIV 15/02/07).

The search engine was ordered to pay a 25,000 euro daily fine and condemned for non-compliance with the ruling. Copiepresse, an association which represents Belgian, French and German-language newspapers, described the ruling as "a victory for content producers". 

France could follow the Belgian example and sue Google for its news service. Agence France Press (AFP) has already filed a lawsuit for the same reasons as Copiepresse in France and the United States.

The new open standard to prevent the repetition of similar cases, ACAP, was jointly launched by publishers and search engines on 29 November in New York after a 12-month testing period. Exalead, the fourth biggest search engine, was involved in the tests. Several publishers have already adopted the new protocol.

  • 29 Nov. 2007:  Launch in New York of the new Automated Content Access Protocol, ACAP.
  • 6 Dec. 2007:   European Publishers' Forum 2007.
  • End 2007/beginning 2008: the European Commission will present its new communication on 'Creative content online in the Single Market'.
  • European Commissioner Reding comments at the 2007 Brussels Publishers' ForumSpeeches6/12/2007

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