Sunday, June 07, 2009

Online publishing debate underpins need for ACAP

ACAP (Automated Content Access Protocol), the new tool devised by the worldwide publishing community to help make copyright work on the web, is gaining more and more traction with an industry that feels it risks losing control of its main asset - its content. Over 800 sites in 43 countries worldwide have already implemented ACAP on their sites, 53% of which are in the US, as the clearest possible sign to the search engine community and other aggregators that publishers are reasserting their right to decide on the use of their intellectual property, a right which is currently ignored by many players on the Internet.

ACAP is the content industry's response to a problem that has arisen from the absence of the right tools to make copyright work on the web. This new communication protocol makes it impossible for third parties to claim ignorance about a content owner's copyright, and the permissions that they are willing to grant. ACAP is a machine-interpretable language for communicating the terms and conditions of re-use in a language that can be read by online crawlers. Eventually, content owners will be able to express any permissions with ACAP thus providing the incentive for the creation and availability of high-quality content and the creation of new online business models that will ultimately benefit everyone on the net.

Google, which participated in a number of technical discussions with ACAP's technical working group, has been speaking out on online publishing recently. The Sunday Times reports Google's European President Nikesh Arora as insisting that the group is committed to "finding the right model so everyone can make money", adding: "I can't show content if a deal isn't in place."

ACAP Project Director Mark Bide said: "We warmly welcome Google's support for "deals". However, ACAP provides a tool that allows any content provider, with or without a specific bilateral agreement, to express unambiguously what can or cannot be done with their online content, making it really simple for search engines and other aggregators to comply with copyright owners' wishes. We continue to reach out to the major search engines and call on them to adopt this flexible new tool that will clarify online business-to-business relationships and benefit everyone on the net.
Meanwhile, in the Guardian Newspaper, Google's Business Product Manager Josh Cohen is quoted as saying "ACAP only addresses the small minority of content owners and [it has] major technical issues. We can't accept it in its current form. There are a number of challenges with Acap..."

ACAP Chairman and CEO Designate of Independent News & Media Gavin O'Reilly said: "I am rather confused by Josh Cohen's statement... In the first place, the organizations behind ACAP: WAN, the EPC and the IPA, represent thousands of the world's newspaper, book, journal, online and magazine publishers. Secondly, in terms of the technology, not only did Google contribute to the development of ACAP but they also made it clear that if we wanted them to take part we would have to follow the robots protocol which led us to redesign our approach. In any case we have always said that ACAP is a solution-based project not a technology-based one. What we are interested in is being able to communicate our permissions information adequately on the net. What that technology looks like is irrelevant. We have been asking Google what the remaining outstanding technical issues might be so that we can fix them, but are still waiting for a response."

ACAP has caught the imagination of politicians in the UK and in Brussels with ACAP cited in policy documents (UK Government's Digital Britain document; EU Commission's Communication on Content Online) on how to solve the digital rights conundrum that sees publishers enjoying ever-increasing readership figures...but failing to find the revenue that will enable them to sustain their online presence.

For further information, please visit or contact ACAP Project Director Mark Bide on Tel: +44 (0)20 7620 4433; or at

Note to Editors: Mark Bide is happy to comment on any issue relating to online digital rights.


No comments: