The Associated Press, Copyright, and the Blogosphere
The Associated Press has announced that it will be developing guidelines for the quotation of its articles in blogs. According to the New York Times:
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.
The A.P.’s effort to impose some guidelines on the free-wheeling blogosphere, where extensive quoting and even copying of entire news articles is common, may offer a prominent definition of the important but vague doctrine of “fair use,” which holds that copyright owners cannot ban others from using small bits of their works under some circumstances. For example, a book reviewer is allowed to quote passages from the work without permission from the publisher.
This statement comes on the heels of the AP’s sending a letter to the Drudge Retort to remove quotations from AP stories that ranged from about 40 to 80 words. These weren’t very big excerpts. The AP later backtracked a bit, claiming that its letter was “heavy handed,” but it has not withdrawn the takedown letters to Drudge. According to the NY Times article: “The Associated Press believes that in some cases, the essence of an article can be encapsulated in very few words.”
Is creating a policy to limit the quotation of articles a wise move by the AP? It seems to me that this is not a particularly smart decision. I’d be surprised if the discussion of news articles in blogs impaired the market for those articles. What, exactly, is the harm? Nowhere in the NY Times story did the AP articulate how the quotation of its stories is harming it. The AP vice president offers the following reason: “As content creators, we firmly believe that everything we create, from video footage all the way down to a structured headline, is creative content that has value.” Okay, so it has value, but so does nearly all creative content.
If anything, discussion of articles in the blogosphere enhances the attention a news organization will receive, as well as encourages more people to read the article. The AP says that it doesn’t want to stop people from quoting its articles very briefly and linking to them; it wants to limit how much bloggers quote. The difficulty here is that AP stories quickly disappear from the Internet, so links to full articles go dead after a week or two. The New York Times has a much more enlightened policy, encouraging bloggers to use and link to its articles by offering a permalink that will never go dead.
The devil, of course, will be in the details. How restrictive will the AP policy be? My inclination is to avoid all AP articles and quote other more blogger-friendly news sources. I don’t want to bother having to count words, or figure out what percentage of the piece I’m supposed to quote. There are other news organizations that I hope will be happy to have the blogosphere’s attention.