The A.P.‘s unjustifiable risk

The Associated Press entered highly dangerous territory last week when it sent take down notices to a publication (a.k.a. blog) known as The Drudge Retort over what it considered copyright violations. In what is widely regarded as typical fair use for blogs, the Drudge Retort copied a couple of sentences from AP reports and provided a link back to the original. The AP argued that it was not fair use, which prompted many people, including Jeff Jarvis, to cry “foul.”

My suspicion is that it’s the lawyers who got the AP into this mess. My best advice for the AP’s executives is that they should try to practice the bloggers’ ethic of the link and quote themselves (updating their news values with one more value). My next-best advice is that they should walk down the hall and tell the lawyers to put a damned sock in it or send them off for a very long off-site on a golf course where they can do no harm. This is not going to be resolved enforcing the fine print of outmoded laws built for an extinct age. This is a constantly changing landscape that must be maneuvered with flexibility and openness. But if those lawyers continue to threaten bloggers who know more about this new age and are only practicing their appropriate ethics, I will continue to use this space to suggest where socks should go.

Jeff’s commentary and that of many others prompted the AP to back off a bit. In a New York Times piece on the matter, Saul Hansell writes that the AP released a statement defending its actions on Friday, but later held an emergency meeting and softened its position.

“We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this,” Mr. Kennedy (Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of The A.P.) said.

Mr. Kennedy said the company was going to meet with representatives of the Media Bloggers Association, a trade group, and others. He said he hopes that these discussions can all occur this week so that guidelines can be released soon.

Still, Mr. Kennedy said that the organization has not withdrawn its request that Drudge Retort remove the seven items. And he said that he still believes that it is more appropriate for blogs to use short summaries of A.P. articles rather than direct quotations, even short ones.

“Cutting and pasting a lot of content into a blog is not what we want to see,” he said. “It is more consistent with the spirit of the Internet to link to content so people can read the whole thing in context.”

And now a boycott of AP content is underway, and it includes TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington:

The A.P. doesn’t get to make it’s own rules around how its content is used, if those rules are stricter than the law allows. So even thought they say they are making these new guidelines in the spirit of coöperation, it’s clear that, like the RIAA and MPAA, they are trying to claw their way to a set of property rights that don’t exist today and that they are not legally entitled to. And like the RIAA and MPAA, this is done to protect a dying business model — paid content.

The real problem for the A.P. is that it can’t win this argument, and by pressing the issue, they’re very likely to end up with a business model that dies overnight. And I don’t think I’m overstating that. Links are the currency of the Web, and the A.P. hard line spits in the face of that, which is leading to boycotts like Arrington’s. The monopoly co-operative is living in the past, but it needs that past to validate a business model that is as out-of-date as traditional media itself. Now, by pressing the matter, they run the significant risk of being in a contrary legal position, and what will be left for them after that?

They’ve announced that they’re willing to create a new policy, but that, too, is fraught with problems, for it can only shed further light on the weakness of their business model in a changing environment. Bloggers know that links go to the originator of the content, which would mean linking to the A.P.‘s members, not the A.P. version thereof. When that happens, media companies will rightly ask why they need an expensive middle man in the equation. Always remember that the Web disrupts the middle of any transaction, including media. As such, the most enviable position in the new world is that of aggregator, but as Google News proves, there’s not exactly a whole lot of money to be made in so doing.

These are all questions that observers have been asking for years, of course, but the A.P.‘s own foolish action with what is essentially a small social website have shined a significant spotlight on them all.

Comments

  1. The AP product is not worth saving, let them continue to cut their own throats. The quicker these Moronic Media dinosauers die, the better the discourse between those that value the truth in their reporting can get the info they seek!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Last week the Associated Press sent the Drudge Retort (with a “t” not a “p”) a letter asking that it remove excerpts of AP content — 39 to 79 words in length — saying it was a copyright infringement. Over the weekend, the AP backed off a bit on the letter, but said it was taking a new look at non-member bloggers and their use of AP content “when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference.” This, as you might imagine, has riled up the blogging masses. TechCrunch, for example, has banned AP stories on the site. “The AP doesn’t get to make it’s own rules around how its content is used, if those rules are stricter than the law allows,” writes Michael Arrington. Terry Heaton takes it a step further, “The real problem for the AP is that it can’t win this argument, and by pressing the issue, they’re very likely to end up with a business model that dies overnight.” […]

  2. […] The internet is mad at AP. AP has announced it will decide what fair use of its news is. For a taste of the reaction, see Terry Heaton’s The A.P.’s unjustifiable risk, Scott Karp’s Associated Press Hands Local And National News Sites An Opportunity To Get Links And Traffic and Mary Hodder’s Associated Press C&Ds Rogers Cadenhead, Gets Boycotted by Bloggers. […]

  3. ZEITGEIST says:

    […] A.P. VS. THE BLOGOSPHERE: Terry Heaton comments: […]

  4. […] I think I know why the Associated Press people don’t want their product “published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed”.  People might start talking about the shoddiness of said product. […]

  5. […] June 17, 2008 at 6:26 pm (Bad Manners, Blogs and Blogging, Fourth Estate, Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, Pest Control, Politics, Salieri would be proud, Village Idiots, What tha..?) Terry Heaton’s take on the latest AP kerfluffle is a must read. The Associated Press entered highly dangerous territory last week when it sent take down notices to a publication (a.k.a. blog) known as The Drudge Retort over what it considered copyright violations. In what is widely regarded as typical fair use for blogs, the Drudge Retort copied a couple of sentences from AP reports and provided a link back to the original. The AP argued that it was not fair use, which prompted many people, including Jeff Jarvis, to cry “foul.” […]

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