The Associated Press signs on with journalism blockchain startup Civil

Civil Media Company is a startup that aims to support a network of high-quality news outlets through the sale of cryptocurrency. Now, it’s trying to apply the blockchain that underpins digital currency to protect that journalism.

Today the company is announcing a two-part deal with The Associated Press. The AP will license its content to the newsrooms in the Civil network (there are 14, and they include startups like ZigZag and Block Club Chicago), as it does with other news outlets. The other part involves the AP and Civil working together on a blockchain based-technology that will let Civil newsrooms track the flow of their content and enforce licensing rights.

The arrangement gives Civil access to the AP’s experience in licensing, business practices and product design. The AP gets access to potential new customers through Civil’s network and a chance to learn and adopt the emerging blockchain technology. (Civil is committed to building the tech; the AP hasn’t formally committed to being involved in the building.) The AP also will get Civil tokens, which Civil will issue (the token sale is set to start Sept. 18). The tokens are part of the way Civil is trying to form a self-governing system to promote ethical, high-quality journalism.

Civil is a for-profit company that is funded with $5 million from Consensys, which helps companies build on the Ethereum blockchain. It’s brought on a who’s who in media, including Vivian Schiller, who is CEO of the Civil Foundation, a nonprofit that will promote Civil’s core values; and advisors such as Columbia University’s Emily Bell and former Gizmodo Media Group CEO Raju Narisetti.) Token holders can use to help fund Civil newsrooms and keep low-quality newsrooms out of the network. Ex-Washington Post exec Jarrod Dicker is taking a similar, tech-based approach to publishing’s sustainability problem with blockchain startup Poet.

Matthew Iles, Civil’s founder and CEO, said the goal of the blockchain technology is twofold: to make it easier for publishers and creators to license their content and make it easier for them to track down their content when it’s used without permission. Iles, a vet of ESPN, said big media companies tell him that 50 percent to 70 percent of the content they publish is being republished without any credit or compensation. And even though many have robust legal teams, it’s hard to track down the offenders.

“People who are creating content aren’t in control of it in any way,” he said. “What this all boils up to is content creators to to be able to get credit for work wherever it’s published and more efficiently track the chain of value and ensure people are getting name credit and compensation.”

Jim Kennedy, svp of strategy and enterprise development at The Associated Press, said finding new customers for the AP’s journalism was its primary interest in Civil, but protecting intellectual property was important, too.

“Right now, we send something out on the internet, and we can’t really track it in all the ways it’s consumed,” he said. “When you’re licensing content to a legacy media company, you can pretty well track it. But on the internet, it’s never been easy. When we do contracts with people, we establish their rights to use it, and they’re generally followed. But when it’s published, it’s freely available for people to scrape and cut and paste. It used to be, we just worried about people using it for free. Now there’s this whole element of people using it for fake news and misinformation. This presents an opportunity to have a real track record of who’s allowed to publish content and how it’s being used.”

The idea is to release a product in three months, Iles said. Pricing hasn’t been determined but there will likely be a free version available to Civil newsrooms, he said.

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