Experts Say ACAP Specs Not Up To Snuff

    December 6, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

Publishers have come together to develop the Automated Content Access Protocol (ACAP), a technical standard intended to dictate to search engines what they can index and what they can’t. One problem, though, as more technical minds have noted, is that the standard isn’t quite technical enough.

It’s technical deficiencies may stem from the protocol – intended as an extension of robots.txt – being developed by publishers, not professional techies.

"The specs clearly weren’t written by people with any experience in writing technical standards," writes Tim Lee, an expert author at the TechDirt Insight Community. "While a well-written standard will very precisely specify which behaviors are required, which are prohibited, and under what circumstances, the ACAP spec is full of vague directives and confusing terminology."

Indeed, if you look at the list of members, you’ll notice a trend: it’s all publishers, many of which have had their legal conflicts with Google especially. It consists of the Associated Press, Association of American Publishers, Agence-France Presse, among many, many others.

As described on the ACAP homepage, the standard is intended to become a universal permissions protocol that allows content owners to communicate permissions for access and use of online content. In short, it’s intended as a way for publishers to tell search engines exactly what can and cannot be done with their content.

And while the idea might be acceptable and even have "promise," James Grimmelmann, an associate professor at New York Law School with expertise in both computer technology and law, says the vague, imprecise technical language of it could leave it open for expansive interpretations under the law:

"I’m concerned that the publishers will soon argue that failure to respect every last detail expressed in an ACAP file will constitute automatic copyright infringement, breach of contract, trespass to computer systems, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (and related state statutes), trespass vi et armis, highway robbery, land-piracy, misappropriation, alienation of affection, and/or manslaughter."

Some might note a hint of sarcasm there.