Friday, November 30, 2007

EU To Publish Online Content Rule As Industry Launches IP Standard

The European Commission’s is expected to publish by year’s end a communication on creative content online that will address how to improve the competitiveness of European online content production and distribution industry, European officials said Thursday.

In remarks broadcast at the unveiling of the Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP) in New York, Viviane Reding, European commissioner for information society and the media, said the online content market in Europe can be developed faster through industry agreements, self-regulation and stringent application of competition policy.

“The uncertainties associated with the shift to digital technologies inhibit the development of many potential online services,” Reding said, adding that moving content online calls for changes in the way content rights are traded and exploited.

The commission’s policy statement will likely lead to a recommendation after consultation with the European Parliament and the member states, said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council. The communication will include codes of conduct between policy holders and intermediaries to deal with piracy. The intent is to establish an online content platform concentrating on three areas: access to creative content, multi-territory licensing and digital rights management. It likely will include a European code of conduct on users’ digital rights.

“These are things that have just been left and not dealt with over the last few years,” Wade said. “We’re going to be quite busy in the coming year.”

Reding next week will participate in a publishers’ forum in Brussels to develop some of these themes, Wade added.

An international group of publishers and media groups on Thursday launched ACAP, a standard aimed at protecting the intellectual property of those wanting to make content available on the Internet. Reding said the European Commission is watching ACAP closely, adding it offers possibilities for a “win-win situation for all stakeholders.”

ACAP was developed at the behest of the World Association of Newspapers, International Publishers Association and the European Publishers Council and with the help of search engines as an automated technical solution that allows publishers to express access and use policies in a language that search engines’ indexing software - known as “crawlers” - can be taught to understand. That way, the search engine can comply with the specific policy or licence on how it can use that site’s content.

Currently, search engines like Yahoo and Google voluntarily abide by a Website’s wishes outlined in a text file known as “robots.txt,” which a search engine’s crawler knows to look for as it scours sites. A site can block indexing of individual Web pages, certain directories or the entire site. ACAP wants to have extra commands that could, for example, try to limit how long search engines can retain copies of the site’s indexes.

ACAP members - which include the Associated Press, Recording Industry Association of America and the Federation of European Publishers - hope the tool will encourage rights holders to make their works easily available online while avoiding expensive legal battles between search engines and content providers. Publishers rely on being able to control online distribution of articles in order to charge for the content.

Machines already know how to talk to each other through various communication protocols like TCP/IP - used on the Internet and commercial networks - and Web feed formats. But machines don’t know how to communicate access and use policies. ACAP version 1.0 gives content owners and publishers a way to express those policies in a language that search engine robots and similar automated tools can read and understand.

The ‘big three’ search engines - Google, Yahoo and MSN - have not formally endorsed ACAP but have been involved in discussions.

Joe Siino, vice president of intellectual property at Yahoo, said his company is “very eager at this point to see what ACAP has in store for the future and to learn more about it” but will continue being part of the talks as a third-party only. “We really feel like we have to take a few first steps to get this moving in a way that makes publishers comfortable,” he added.

Siino said it is not likely one solution that satisfies both content owners and search engines will fully develop anytime soon. “It’s hard to know in this industry but I think it’s going to be a multi-year evolution,” he said.

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