ACAPThe chairman of World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has called on the big three search engines to embrace an online publishing project that they have so far refused to formally join.

Speaking at an industry conference Gavin O'Reilly told delegates that he was 'perplexed' and 'somewhat troubled' that Google, MSN and Yahoo had chosen not to become members of the ACAP project.

The Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP), a collaborative venture between WAN, the European Publishers Council (EPC), the International Publishers Association (IPA) and the European Newspapers Association (ENPA), is six months into a yearlong rights management pilot aimed at developing a platform that would allow search engines to recognise the terms and conditions of specific publishers sites and web pages.

Opening the ACAP conference, in London today, O'Reilly urged the 'big three' to join the project, saying that they should see it as a new opportunity for dialogue with publishers rather than as a concession to them over copyright disagreements.

"ACAP is just a pilot to create something that can work for all the players in our industry. I believe it is a golden opportunity to build trust without the much less attractive option of the law courts," he said.

"We can only conclude that the current formal absence of the search engines from the list of our participants is benign, if somewhat troubling, and I will repeat the call I have made privately, and publicly, for the big three to embrace the project and its goals whole-heartedly."

A spokesperson for Google told that the company was happy in its current role, as informal member offering technical advice, and did not see the need to change its relationship with ACAP.

At the time of publication was awaiting responses from Microsoft and Yahoo.
"I guess I shouldn't move from the topic of search engines and their involvement in ACAP without touching on what often threatens to be the most controversial aspect of their interactions with content owners, the somewhat divergent views about copyright," O'Reilly added.

"It is no secret that the search engines have a very public disagreement with virtually all publishers over the interpretation of copyright law with regard to their principle business activities.

"In short, there is some disagreement with the oft quoted assertion that search engine activity is 'entirely legal'.

"I want to make it clear, ACAP is not addressing these disagreements. It merely seeks to define an open standard way for publishers to express their permissions in a format that search engine systems can read, interpret, and comply with – or not, as the case may be.

"If the search engines choose to honour what is communicated to them will depend on whether they share the publishers' interpretation of the law of how entirely legal their activities are.

"We would of course hope that search engines would opt not just to ignore ACAP permissions but discuss them with the publishers concerned before deciding whether or not to index the content.

"The point is that ACAP does not technically enforce the permissions any more than a printed licence prevents photocopy. It will just express permissions clearly and unambiguously. If a publisher considers it necessary to enforce compliance they will do so through other means.

"To that extent, to me anyhow, ACAP seems entirely uncontroversial, some good housekeeping to maintain order in an increasing complex online world.

"Our contacts with the search engines would seem to confirm what some have to say. We believe that they agree an open standard to communicate information would indeed be useful.

"However, some would point to Robots.txt as an existing protocol and ask 'why reinvent the wheel?'

"Our simple point is that robots.txt is dated, does not the reflect the new realities of modern day digital publishing, and needs simply to be updated. That ladies and gentlemen is the fundamental premise of ACAP.

"Although this point is not universally accepted yet, they seem to be interested in what ACAP has to propose but are being cautious about any formal agreement in the project.

"If that is because of any fear that participation in ACAP might be seen as a concession to publishers on the main points of disagreement on copyright, then I can only offer up an alternative interpretation that to show such a positive engagement with content owners will create new opportunities for dialogue which will build trust and understanding which in turn will lead to new opportunities for search engines and publishers alike.

"So however perplexing I find the fact that the big three are still not full participants in ACAP it is for me still probably the sole and minor disappointment in a long and continuing litany of successes and triumphs. I welcome the self-evident operational involvement that we continue to see from some of them."

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