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Remember the beacon? Newly formed NewsRight is the evolution of AP’s News Registry

NewsRight aims to help news organizations license and track their content on the web, but its president says it’s not a litigation shop.

Twenty-nine major news organizations have signed on as investors in NewsRight, a newly launched company that aims to make it easier for publishers to license and track their content on the web.

NewsRight logo

David Westin, the president of NewsRight and former head of ABC News, says news organizations are suffering even though demand for news on the web is exploding, calling it an “imperfection in the marketplace.”

“Much of that digital growth is coming to the benefit of companies who themselves are not hiring reporters, or at least not very many reporters. They are relying on content taken from websites of the traditional news providers,” Westin said.

That’s a polite way of addressing unresolved tension between traditional news organizations and the aggregators, bloggers, and scrapers — “some of which are perfectly legitimate, some of which are perfectly outrageous, and a fair number of which lie in between and are subject to honest disagreement,” Westin said.

The details are still being worked out, but the company will provide a platform for news organizations to license and distribute clean feeds of their content to third parties. That software includes analytics to help measure the reach of the content — and find out whether it’s being ripped off. NewsRight will provide legal guidance to publishers where necessary.

BeaconA little history: Remember THE BEACON? Back in 2009, the Associated Press took a somewhat more antagonistic approach to protecting its intellectual property on the web. We reported on the AP’s plans to build AP News Registry, “a way to identify, record and track every piece of content AP makes available to its members and other paying customers.” Part of that plan was the beacon, a little bit of JavaScript embedded into the AP’s syndicated news feeds, which helped expose people who, in the AP’s view, were scraping or, well, over-aggregating, its material. The AP took a lot of flak in the journalism universe.

The beacon is still very much alight and integrated into the NewsRight platform, which AP spun off into its own separate concern. The company is tracking more than 16,000 websites that use material from almost 900 news sites in its database, Westin said, and the software is measuring more than 160 million unique readers and four billion impressions a month.

Most of the websites that auto-scrape AP news feeds without permission don’t remove the tracking code, Westin said. To hunt down those savvy enough to remove the beacon, the tracking software also scours the web for text that matches the source material and flags anything that’s a 70-percent match or stronger.

Westin, who spent years as a litigator in Washington, said NewsRight is not Righthaven, the aggressive copyright enforcer that has all but folded. “We have not been set up first and foremost as a litigation shop,” Westin said. “Now, that doesn’t mean down the road there won’t be litigation. I hope there’s not. Some people may decide to sue, and we can support that with the data we gather, the information we gather. But…those are very expensive, cumbersome, time-consuming processes.”

NewsRight’s partner news organizations include Advance Publications, A.H. Belo, Community Newspaper Holdings, Gatehouse Media, The Gazette Company, Hearst Newspapers, Journal Communications, McClatchy, MediaNews, The New York Times Co., Scripps, and The Washington Post Co. AP remains on the NewsRight board and is a minority shareholder. Westin said NewsRight is accepting new applications for news organizations and bloggers who want to syndicate their content.

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  • Anonymous

    Don’t be fooled. This will be a smarter Righthaven and there will be lawsuits. Just stand by and watch. Westin is after all a litigator.

    His former employer ABC News, and all of it’s hundreds of local TV stations across the country have been stealing from newspapers since they came into existence. Every TV newsroom in the country has a morning meeting where they open newspapers and start picking stories. TV assignment editors hand newspaper articles to TV reporters on their way out the door in every TV station in the country. Except now they just print it off the web. I’ve watched TV producers type stories up out a newspaper thousands of times. TV news, even the networks, have been stealing from newspaper reporters for decades. It’s not even questioned. Every newspaper and TV reporter knows this.

    Funny how Westin didn’t end that kind of rights theft while at ABC.

  • Womanphoenix

    The whole reason for the embedded code is to keep papers from having
    to hire people whose sole job it would be to scan the web for quotes
    from stories — a prohibitive expense.  The way to get around this is to
    paste the copied text into a word-processing program (or even an e-mail
    client) and save it in text-only format before putting it into one’s post.  The “phone home” code won’t
    survive that trip.  You’ll have to insert any links or other (desired) code by hand, but that doesn’t take very long.  Yeah, the beacon’s supposed to check for this using software that compares text, but it’s allegedly been in use for years and I’ve yet to hear of anyone being harrassed as a result of this software.

    Another way around this is to do what you have described: Instead of
    directly quoting from stories, do what newspapers and other
    establishment media have done since their inception, which is to rewrite
    the story in one’s own words and leave out all indication that somebody
    else did the legwork. (If you’re feeling generous, or if you’re using a
    story from a non-NewsRight member, you could, perhaps, link back to the
    original.)  This is probably the most workable long-term
    response; it’s true that ethically, emulating the unethical behavior of the TradMed in
    this regard is repulsive, but when they drive us to it, we will have no
    choice in the matter.  It will also mean that bloggers will have to
    work a little harder on composition in an era that prizes speed over
    accuracy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Righthaven got spanked and AP had to ditch News Registry because fair-use law is simply not on their side.  AP and its co-conspirators can huff and puff, and they will likely ruin and frighten a few bloggers on the way, but there will be those who will gladly take them on and make them yearn for the days when bloggers weren’t afraid to properly attribute stories and research.