Automated Content Access Protocol
Automated Content Access Protocol ("ACAP") was proposed in 2006 as a method of providing machine-readable permissions information for content, in the hope that it would have allowed automated processes (such as search-engine web crawling) to be compliant with publishers' policies without the need for human interpretation of legal terms. ACAP was developed by organisations that claimed to represent sections of the publishing industry (World Association of Newspapers, European Publishers Council, International Publishers Association). It was intended to provide support for more sophisticated online publishing business models, but was criticised for being biased towards the fears of publishers who see search and aggregation as a threat rather than as a source of traffic and new readers.
In November 2007 ACAP announced that the first version of the standard was ready. No non-ACAP members, whether publishers or search engines, have adopted it so far. A Google spokesman appeared to have ruled out adoption. In March 2008, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt stated that "At present it does not fit with the way our systems operate". No progress has been announced since the remarks in March 2008 and Google, along with Yahoo! and MSN, have since reaffirmed their commitment to the use of robots.txt and sitemaps.
In April 2007 ACAP commenced a pilot project in which the participants and technical partners undertook to specify and agree various use cases for ACAP to address. A technical workshop, attended by the participants and invited experts, has been held in London to discuss the use cases and agree next steps.
By February 2007 the pilot project was launched and participants announced.
By October 2006, ACAP had completed a feasibility stage and was formally announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair on 6 October 2006. A pilot program commenced in January 2007 involving a group of major publishers and media groups working alongside search engines and other technical partners.
ACAP and search engines
It has been suggested that ACAP is unnecessary, since the robots.txt protocol already exists for the purpose of managing search engine access to websites. However, others support ACAP’s view that robots.txt is no longer sufficient. ACAP argues that robots.txt was devised at a time when both search engines and online publishing were in their infancy and as a result is insufficiently nuanced to support today’s much more sophisticated business models of search and online publishing. ACAP aims to make it possible to express more complex permissions than the simple binary choice of “inclusion” or “exclusion”.
As an early priority, ACAP is intended to provide a practical and consensual solution to some of the rights-related issues which in some cases have led to litigation between publishers and search engines.
No public search engines recognise Acap. Only one, Exalead, ever confirmed that they will be adopting the standard, but they have since ceased functioning as a search portal to focus on the software side of their business.
Comment and debate
The project has generated considerable online debate, in the search, content and intellectual property communities. If there are linking themes to the commentary, they are that keeping the specification simple will be critical to its successful implementation, and that the aims of the project are focussed on the needs of publishers, rather than readers. Many have seen this as a flaw.
- ACAP FAQ: Where is the driving force behind ACAP?
- Douglas, Ian (2007-12-03). "Acap: a shot in the foot for publishing". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-05-03.
- Search Engine Watch report of Rob Jonas' comments on ACAP
- IT Wire report of Eric Schmidt's comments on ACAP
- Improving on Robots Exclusion Protocol: Official Google Webmaster Central Blog
- IPTC Media Release: News syndication version of ACAP ready for launch and management handed over to the IPTC
- Official ACAP press release announcing project launch
- News Publishers Want Full Control of the Search Results
- Why you should care about Automated Content Access Protocol
- ACAP FAQ on robots.txt
- "Is Google Legal?" OutLaw article about Copiepresse litigation
- Guardian article about Google's failed appeal in Copiepresse case
- Exalead Joins Pilot Project on Automated Content Access
- Search Engine Watch article
- Shore.com article about ACAP
- IP Watch article about ACAP
- Douglas, Ian (2007-12-23). "Acap shoots back". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-05-03.
- Official website
- Google's hunger for the news in The Guardian newspaper
- Why you should care about Automated Content Access Protocol (Steve Yelvington)
- Automated Content Access Protocol: Why? - Wildly Appropriate
- Acap: flawed and broken from the start - Martin Belam
- Automated Content Access Progress
- WAN calls on Google to embrace Acap - Editor and Publisher
- Google rejects adoption of Acap standard - journalism.co.uk