At the risk of having some tort-toting barrister slithering under my office door, here’s a link to a NY Times story about the latest salvo in the growing war between Traditional Media and online news aggregators/commenters.

The Associated Press said Thursday that it would add software to each article that shows what limits apply to the rights to use it, and that notifies The A.P. about how the article is used.

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it.

I hardly know where to begin here. If you’ve been following the war between Online & Traditional, as it’s reached the screeching desperate frenzy this year, the most-repeated shibboleth is that the news industry committed the “Original Sin” of making its content available online for free, and that everything would go back to the fat profit-margin salad days if only we could roll back the clock and stop the distribution of news & information via that damn intertubes thingy. If we can just track and control who uses what we produce, maybe we can choke off all the “freeloaders and leeches” who are competing for ad dollars without actually doing any work themselves.

So the newspapers, watching the traditional paper iceberg slowly melt around them, put the vise on the AP to Do Something. Anything. The problem is, we’re still short of solutions.  I’ve been working in New Media for more than 12 years now, and I’ve done as much original research and case studies on the Economics of News, and I’m not sure. We’re fumbling towards something, though, and the last few months have actually made me cautiously optimistic that we’re going to be able to reinvent how news & information flows in our societies, in ways that actually benefit the average citizen. That is, the citizens are informed of stories about, say, how the subprime mortgage market is not such a good long-term idea, or that the aftermath of conquering Iraq might be messier than the bespectacled Secretary of Defense claims.

Yeah, I know, those stories did appear in the media and on the boob tube. But what’s attracted the biggest, heaviest coverage these last few weeks, as we’ve sought to retool our health care system, turn around a losing war in Afghanistan, and fact-check how trillions of bailout money was spent?

That’s right. Michael Jackson.

The Original Sin of journalism & newspapers was not to make its content available on the web. The Original Sin was when we looked the other way as our media outlets were snarfed up and transmogrified into revenue-producing subsidiaries.  The consequences of that have had far greater import and impact than our little measly stunted careers (although on a personal level, I’m obviously less than thrilled & have taken quite a hit myself).

So forgive me if I’m not doing the Snoopy Dance over a scheme to erect paywalls to ensure that control over the national conversation remains in the hands of the over-leveraged corporate entitities that got us into this predicament in the first place.

If I’m running a growing network of web-based local news producers, I’m ordering Dom Perignon by the Methuselah today. Why?

1. Every conference I’ve been at for the past two years, the big advertisers say that they’re shifting their budgets to digital/online
2. The AP and newspapers are walling themselves off, and will presumably soon be implementing a RIAA-type model of suing people who infringe on their content
3. The bloggers & aggregators will quickly link to whatever competition provides the same information without all the hassle (or just use the freshman book-report strategy of paraphrasing without linking)
4. Traffic will flow to the competition. Ad dollars will follow.
5. Oh yeah – and the one type of content that is original & can’t be remixed is video… where even if a blogger/aggregator embeds or downloads/transcodes, your logos and your advertiser’s messages will still appear…

I thought that the news and the music business were at about the same point on the evolutionary timescale. It appears that the news business is bound and determined to take a step backward.

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