Associated Press Declares War on Bloggers, Fair Use
Associated Press Declares War on Bloggers, Fair Use
Associated Press Declares War on Bloggers, Fair Use

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    I’ve been plying my trade as a blogger for quite a while—okay, well, “quite a while” in blog years, anyway. During that time, I’ve learned that the old guard print journalists and their scrappy web counterparts don’t always see eye-to-eye on matters of citation and attribution. On the web, the mantra has always been “share and share alike”: most bloggers generally quote and cite each other freely, returning the favor in the form of a link. This works because the Internet economy runs on page views, which are equally coveted by advertisers, writers and business folks alike. Unfortunately, some content producers with roots in the print world, most notably the large wire services, have failed to understand this unspoken code of conduct. I know that I’m not the only one who has worked for a web publication that received a stern letter from the likes of Reuters or Bloomberg, which essentially said “don’t cite, quote or link to our content”. Sure, this proved to be an inconvenience at times—sometimes the major wire services had exclusive stories that no one else had—but to avoid a legal squabble, the easiest thing to do was to simply stop linking to and quoting from the offended party. After all, if these services want to shoot themselves in the foot, why not simply let them? Here’s why: because rights holders, including the major wire services, do not get to decide what is and isn’t fair use under the law.

    As you probably know, the reason I’m bringing this up now is because of the Associated Press’ (AP) decision last week to go after parody news site Drudge Retort for linking to and printing short quotes from AP articles. Unlike some of the other wire services, the AP graciously allows bloggers and other Internet journalists to quote their articles—for a price. That’s right, if you want to quote an AP article in your blog post, you’ll be paying by the word for the privilege. What’s more, in order to purchase a license to quote AP content, you’ll have to agree to a Terms of Use agreement, which states, among other things, that you may not criticize either the AP or the author of the article in your post or article. If you do, the AP reserves the right to revoke the license granted.

    The problem with the AP’s licensing structure is that it ignores existing fair use rights, which clearly state that a short quotation from any news story is fair game. “Sure, the AP has a copyright in its articles and can prohibit blogs from reposting those articles,” Greg Beck over at Public Citizen writes. “But the AP has no right to impose a tax on brief quotations from AP news stories for the purpose of referencing, discussing, or criticizing those stories and their authors. The right to quote a reasonable amount from a news story for purposes of commentary or criticism is guaranteed by the right of fair use in the Copyright Act, and by the First Amendment.”

    Luckily, the blogosphere isn’t taking this one sitting down. Michael “one of the most famous people on the Internet” Arrington over at TechCrunch issued a call to arms, which resulted in an almost instantaneous boycott of AP stories on the web. In response, the AP announced that it would “rethink its policies toward bloggers.” While that’s nice and all, there really isn’t much here to think about. As Greg Beck points out, the AP still seems to be operating under the assumption that “it has the right to decide how much of its stories bloggers can use.” Fair Use rights apply to all news stories, with or without the AP’s blessing–end of story.

    For better or for worse, that doesn’t seem to be a concept that the AP is willing to understand. So, here’s something they should understand: an invoice. Blogger Michelle Malkin decided to calculate, using the AP’s licensing structure, how much the AP owes her for quotations it has used from her blog posts in recent months (it’s also worth noting that the AP did not link to her blog in the articles where these quotes were used). By Malkin’s count, the AP owes her somewhere in the neighborhood of $132,125. “And there are a few other bloggers quoted recently by AP who should consider sending joke bills, too,” Malkin writes. Is there any chance that the AP will start paying bloggers? For the answer to that question, I’ll refer you to the image below.

    Thanks to gapingvoid for the dinosaur cartoon and to our own Alex Curtis, who pointed me in its direction.