Associated Press: In a hole, still digging

by Mathew on June 16, 2008 · 9 comments

Not content to just distribute DMCA “notice and takedown” letters to unsuspecting websites like The Drudge Retort — a community news blog that is about as far from a commercial media entity as you can get — for excerpting its news stories, Associated Press has decided to create new rules about how much of their content blogs and other websites can quote. No doubt the newswire thinks this is being helpful, but Mike Arrington has taken it as an all-out declaration of war, and he is taking no prisoners. No more linking to or referencing any more AP stories, says TechCrunch. They don’t exist, says Mike.

“The A.P. doesn’t get to make its 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 cooperation, 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.”

In the New York Times piece about this move, AP vice-president Jim Kennedy — the same one whose statement was pasted into the comment section of multiple blog posts on the Drudge Retort story, including mine — says the newswire has backed off its original approach after criticism, and admits that it was “heavy-handed.” The language he uses is one of reconciliation and compromise:

“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 said.

And yet, AP hasn’t retracted its notice to Drudge Retort or its demands that the site remove excerpts, which in some cases amount to as little as a few sentences. According to the NYT story, the news service “still believes that it is more appropriate for blogs to use short summaries of A.P. articles rather than direct quotations, even short ones.” In other words, the Associated Press would rather that you don’t use any excerpts whatsoever from an AP story, but instead rewrite a brief summary. As Scott Rosenberg of Salon correctly notes, this is absurd — fair use principles should apply to short excerpts, especially if they link to the original source. Trying to ban any excerpting at all is ridiculous.

Kennedy tells the Times that the AP is “not trying to sue bloggers. That would be the rough equivalent of suing grandma and the kids for stealing music. That is not what we are trying to do.” And yet, that is very clearly the road that the newswire is going down — and it is a fool’s game, as the record industry has discovered in spades. If nothing else, it will help to demonstrate just how irrelevant the AP is. It is trying to make its content more valuable, but instead it is making it less so.

Update:

The boycott is a lot wider than just Mike Arrington and TechCrunch — a grassroots anti-AP campaign has swung into action, and Richard Kastelein of Atlantic Free Press has set up a website called unassociatedpress.net with a petition people can sign, as well as a number of “boycott Associated Press” badges for websites and blogs. Jeff Jarvis says that AP has “declared war” on bloggers.

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