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Associated Press Clashes With Bloggers

You'd think that more than anyone else, the Associated Press would follow the news.  If it did, it might have realized from stories like this or this, that sending a takedown notice to a blogger is not necessarily the wisest way to protect a copyright interest.  But last week, AP took the takedown route, with a notice to the Drudge Retort (the liberal alternative to the Drudge Report) to remove from the site copyrighted AP materials.  The  disputed content comes from selections ranging in length from 32 to 79 words.

AP's announcement immediately sparked fury across the blogosphere, as many bloggers rely upon blurbs from AP for their postings.  A-list blogger Mike Arrington of Tech Crunch fired the blogging equivalent of the shot-heard-round-the-world, with this exhortation:

So here’s our new policy on A.P. stories: they don’t exist. We don’t see them, we don’t quote them, we don’t link to them. They’re banned until they abandon this new strategy, and I encourage others to do the same until they back down from these ridiculous attempts to stop the spread of information around the Internet.

Others agreed with Arrington.  Brian Ledbetter (who himself was the subject of an AP takedown notice) asks: Will [AP] ever learn how this Internet thing works?  Dan Solove of Concurring Opinions opines that AP's policy is likely counterproductive and that it's unlikely that AP ever experienced any harm as a result of bloggers excerpting content.  In addition to criticizing AP's policy generally, Scott Greenfield of Simple Justice raises a practical concern: Precisely how many words of content exceeds fair use?

However, the debate isn't entirely one sided.  Dan Lewis argues that not everything is fair use and analyzes the AP test under the four factors of the fair use test, concluding that AP's position is plausible. 

At the New York Times Bits blog, Saul Hansell looks at the case from a news organization's perspective.  He writes:

A key part of the legal question here, and probably the ethical one too, is whether by using its material, a Web site inhibits the A.P.’s ability to earn money from its work. Several lawyers suggested to me that the A.P. may have a hard time proving how a few paragraphs in a blog represents real harm. Most blogs aren’t reporting news in direct competition with the A.P.; they are commenting on the news or offering a place to discuss news. Some sites, and this gets a tad dicey, are mainly about presenting lists of links to articles that the blogger, or the members of a community, find interesting. I’ll bet there are users who go to a site like Digg, rather than an A.P. client like Yahoo News, to find out what’s going on in the world. Still, if enough people click on links from these sites back to the sites of the A.P. clients who publish its articles, value is being created for the A.P., not destroyed.

As of this writing, AP has not retracted the notice.  However, as AP reports, it plans to meet with the Media Bloggers Association to create standards for online use of AP stories by bloggers that would protect AP content without discouraging bloggers from legitimately quoting from it.

As a blogger myself, I guess I'm disloyal, because I see AP's point -- though I also believe that AP chose the worst possible facts upon which to assert its copyright claims.  Citing short excerpts with attribution and subsequent commentary, as many bloggers do seems perfectly consistent with fair use -- and AP should't have attacked that particular practice.  At the same time, what I've noticed in my review of  hundreds of blog posts daily in my aggregator, many entries consist of nothing, absolutely nothing more than a complete article from AP (or another news source), followed by a small link at the end that merely says "source," with no attribution.  This type of practice is deceptive since many readers (who often rely on aggregators) may not even read to the end of the post to find the link to the accurate source, and thus, may credit the blogger for a story that AP reported.  Seems to me that AP should have gone after these kinds of wholesale content lifters, rather than going after bloggers who borrow small snippets in an effort to start a broader conversation.

Update: Is AP's stance hypocritical? AP apparently helped itself to a block of content from a blog post, notes Volokh and others. But Volokh adds that it is possible that AP obtained authorization to use the material.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 17, 2008 at 04:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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