Associated Press Raises Copyright/Fair Use Stink

Jun 16th, 2008 | By | Category: Citizen Media, Podcasting Law

The Associated Press, after sending cease and desist letters to the social media site Drudge Retort, plans to release guidelines that explain how much of its articles and media bloggers and Web sites can copy within fair use rights:

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.

Fair use has become an essential concept to many bloggers, who often quote portions of articles before discussing them. The A.P., a cooperative owned by 1,500 daily newspapers, including The New York Times, provides written articles and broadcast material to thousands of news organizations and Web sites that pay to use them.

The Associated Press’s action on the Drudge Retort was seen by many in the blogging world as heavy handed.

Some bloggers are throwing up their hands and abandoning their fair use rights to avoid the issue. For example, at TechCrunch, Michael Arrington has instituted a new policy on AP stories – they’re banned from the site.

“They do not want people quoting their stories, despite the fact that such activity very clearly falls within the fair use exception to copyright law. They claim that the activity is an infringement.

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.”


Others are more open to the AP clarifying its stance.

“There are millions of people sharing links to news articles on blogs, message boards and sites like Digg,” said Rogers Cadenhead, the owner of the Drudge Retort. “If The A.P. has concerns that go all the way down to one or two sentences of quoting, they need to tell people what they think is legal and where the boundaries are.”

“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,” said AP VP Jim Kennedy.

On Friday, The A.P. issued a statement saying it was going to challenge blog postings containing excerpts of A.P. articles “when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste.”

Kennedy said the company plans meet with bloggers this week so that guidelines for reuse of AP content can be released soon.

There are two excellent resources available that address the legal issues around reuse of copyrighted content in blogs and podcasts. If you’re not familiar with these issues, check these resources out:

Update: More at MediaShift

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9 Responses to “Associated Press Raises Copyright/Fair Use Stink”

  1. Ed Roberts says:

    I think the main issue is that people really do not understand “fair use”. It’s not about length of the content you use, it’s more about why and how you use it and what it means for the original producer of the content.
    I suggest listening to an Collette Vogele’s AWESOME discussion with CNET Live regarding what it is. I believe fair use is also covered in the Podcasting Legal Guide, but the CNET discussion is well worth a listen.
    http://www.rulesfortherevolution.com/2008/05/01/cnet-live/

    The AP’s clarification really explains it. – “when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste.”

  2. James Lewin says:

    Ed

    You’re right on all counts – most people don’t get fair use, the Podcasting Legal Guide covers it well and Collette Vogele IS awesome.

    The AP probably is right in this case – but it doesn’t matter. The way they’ve handled this has been a fiasco. There will be a lot of bloggers with the same cut off your nose to spite your face attitude as TechCrunch, don’t you think?

  3. Eric says:

    James, if bloggers at sites like TechCrunch want to cut off their nose to spite their face, then isn’t that their problem? I don’t mean to be insensitive to bloggers (they’ve done some good at recapturing the spirit of a free press), but I also get a sense of entitlement from them; that somehow they’re owed free services and a free ride.

    The fact is, the stories carried by the AP come from a variety of media outlets, from large papers like the NY Times to small-town newspapers that still pay their reporters nickels per word. A blogger copying and pasting their work into a blog without proper regard for who wrote it, who’s paying for it, and where it came from has no business getting their nose bent out of shape over this. And I’m not just talking about who’s paying to keep the teletypes running. I’m talking about the papers and media outlets that pay for FOIA requests, or file law suits in support of open records laws, or hire lawyers to defend First Amendment rights. If bloggers want to join a news service, then perhaps they need to form their own association where they can freely copy and distribute Creative Commons journalism, or even join the AP if that’s possible.

  4. James Lewin says:

    Eric – good points.

    You also have to wonder if TechCrunch really ever ran many articles based on AP stories.

    I’d also be interested in seeing a Blogger’s news network!

  5. Eric says:

    James,

    I don’t know if TechCrunch does reference many stories from the AP directly or not, but chances are, if they reference stories from any newspapers at all, whether or not the AP wire service picked up the article, they’re still referencing work from an AP affiliate. TechCrunch is having a knee-jerk reaction to a knee-jerk reaction.

    I agree, itwould be a remarkable development if bloggers were to somehow herd enough cats to create their own news service. Something with an established editorial quality standard. It’s probably the secret nightmare that keeps the news industry up at night.

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