The Associated Press vs. The Blogosphere

The Associated Press has created considerable discussion in the blogosphere by trying to restrict quotations of their articles from the blogs. The New York Times reports:

The Associated Press, one of the nation’s largest news organizations, said that it will, for the first time, attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.’s copyright…

Last week, The A.P. took an unusually strict position against quotation of its work, sending a letter to the Drudge Retort asking it to remove seven items that contained quotations from A.P. articles ranging from 39 to 79 words.

On Saturday, The A.P. retreated. Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of The A.P., said in an interview that the news organization had decided that its letter to the Drudge Retort was “heavy-handed” and that The A.P. was going to rethink its policies toward bloggers.

Quotations from articles is common in the blogosphere to promote discussion. Ideally quotations should be used as a stepping stone for further discussion but it is not uncommon for bloggers to use a quotation from another source as the bulk of a blog post. I’ll sometimes resort to this when I read something which fits in well with other topics under discussion but I don’t have time to write further when something is seen. Quotations also help keep the blog going when traveling and I can only briefly get to a computer (such as over the past weekend when I resorted to quotations on Saturday and Sunday to prevent the blog from lacking any material).

Ideally the best way to handle such a situation would be a simple link to the article. This would work if blog entries were only read the day they are posted, but it is very frequent for old posts to be read, either through a web search or from people checking the archives. Unfortunately a tremendous number of news articles referred to in old blog posts are no longer available on line. If there is an extended quotation, readers can still get a good sense of the news report which was being referred to.

Quotations from the original article are also of value in giving readers a better idea as to whether they want to read the full article. Hopefully having such excerpts around the blogosphere creates a win-win situation for both bloggers and the original copyright owner. Having links to their material around the blogosphere drives in more traffic. Many newspapers actually encourage links by bloggers by including lists of blogs linking to their stories.

The Associated Press likely is acting within their regal rights to protect their copyrighted work, although it is not clear how much quotation in a blog post would legally be considered fair use. Even if they are right legally, their reputation would suffer if they began initiating law suits against bloggers. This looks more like a desperate attempt of old media to hang out to the past as opposed to finding ways to thrive in the internet.

Should the Associated Press take a heavy hand the most likely result will be that bloggers will quote from other new sources and ignore them. This will help build the credibility of other news sources while decreasing the exposure of the Associated Press among the growing number of people who use blogs and web aggregrators to steer them towards articles worth reading. Having other news services receive frequent links from blogs while they are left out could also result in lowering Associated Press in the results of web searches. Web sites which make money from web advertising might even decide to use news from other sources in order to continue to receive traffic from bloggers linking to their site. Before the Associated Press takes steps to restrict the use of their material by bloggers they should carefully consider the consequences.

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  1. 1
    Texas Liberal says:

    I think the AP has had some had some conflicts with newspapers as well. I’m not sure it is simply a case of “old media” just trying to hold on. Or at least not in the same sense newspapers are looking to define to a new role. The AP is national and global and has a unique set of challenges and strengths. 

    As you say, the AP might be in the right in a more narrow sense, but it is likely not the best longterm plan. That said, when nobody will pay for content anymore, who will create content?  

    It seems sometimes the more information that is available, the less people know and the harder it is for people who create content, either information or entertainment, to get paid.

    The AP should be careful what it asks for. They might get ignored in the end. People who want everything for free might be careful as well. I’ve yet to see bloggers with bureaus, editors and photographers around the world. That stuff costs a lot of money.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Texas Liberal,

    It isn’t a question of what happens if nobody pays for content. While bloggers are not going to pay for the content, many commercial web sites do. The question is whether having links from blogs really reduces the income of these sites or if it might enhance it by driving more traffic to them.

    I think that most people who quote material from the Associated Press recognize the value of what they do. If bloggers were bringing in large amounts of money for posting material from them then it would be justifiable for AP to expect payment. However considering that very few blogs are making much money, this isn’t realistic. Hopefully allowing quotations from blogs helps drive traffic to those commercial sites which do pay for material from AP and make it a win-win situation for both AP and the bloggers.

  3. 3
    rdomanski says:

    Critics of the Associated Press’ policies are correct in their assertions, and their watchdog vigilance serves us all well. However, such cyberactivists ought to realize that, to protect open communication, loud public criticism serves them better than a boycott of the very information they are trying to defend.
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