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AP: The Internet’s Big Bully

The Associated Press has a strange concept of what fair use is.

by
Brian C. Ledbetter

Bio

June 16, 2008 - 8:30 am

The Associated Press is at it again. Not content with attempting to bring about the end of Snapped Shot, my little wire-photo-critiquing hobby, they’re now going after the dastardly news commentators over at the Drudge Retort for alleged copyright violations.

Will they ever learn how this Internet thing works?

Back in March, I was delighted to receive a love letter from the AP’s legal department, which kindly informed me that they didn’t particularly care for me. You can read all about those travails in the piece I wrote for PJ Media back then. In a nutshell, I jumped through every last hoop I could to ensure that their lawyers were happy with me, and that they’d be content to leave me alone, sans their content. (Pun intended.)

It would seem that their new target is facing similar prospects. Rogers Cadenhead, proprietor of the Drudge Retort, posted on Friday that the AP had sent him not one, but seven take-down notices for article citations on his news aggregation website. He lists one example that the AP found extremely offensive, in which a user had committed the unforgivable sin of quoting 57 words out of a 442-word article — a dastardly 12 percent of the content!

This harkens back to memories of the Los Angeles Times / Washington Post vs. Free Republic, a case that seems to have provided much of the case law that governs the use of news citations on forums these days. That was a much worse case, though, since much of the lawsuit against Free Republic revolved around the use of full article text, whereas the Retort merely uses brief citations from the article.

Much like my actions when faced with imminent lawyer friendship and love, Rogers immediately took down the articles listed in the complaint, and posted about it. Unlike my case, however, he’s getting some very serious support from people in rather high places.

First and foremost, TechCrunch — at present listed as the #2 blog in the world according to Technorati, which is to say that they’re king of the state fair (PJ Media at #93 would be the minority whip) — has indignantly sworn off all Associated Press content. This is an admirable position, though I suspect that it’s one that will be somewhat hard to uphold, given that AP wire reports account for a vast majority of the news that’s published, but I do give them full credit for trying, at least.

Even more impressively, the New York Times has stepped up to the plate to bat for the Drudge Retort. Says the Times, the AP took an “unusually strict position” with the Retort.

Funny, I don’t remember the Times commenting on my case, even though it wasn’t as cut and dry as the AP made it sound. I mean, considering how anti-big guy and pro-little guy the Times claims to be, one would’ve thought that they should have said something about me. But hey, considering how much the Times fawned over the launch of the anti-Drudge website, when much of the site’s early traffic came from their cyber-squatting on the Drudge.com domain — a serious Internet no-no — I reckon it’s not all that surprising.

It’s not like Times reporters are known for reading a wide cross-sample of the blogosphere, after all.

Could it be possible that the AP is starting an all-out campaign against the Internet?

For an association that seems to just now be starting to explore an online presence of its own, this would definitely seem to be the wrong way to get things started. It’s bad enough that the association would be placing itself in direct competition with its member agencies’ websites by doing so, but to also try to use the courtrooms to stifle all discussion about their content — well, that just doesn’t seem like one of the smarter business plans I’ve seen come out of Harvard.

It sure sounds like something a Yalie would come up with, doesn’t it?

As the inevitable result of the Retort outcry, the Associated Press has announced that it will finally issue a decree listing how we bloggers may use their content — no doubt down to the letter and word count. Perhaps the AP will even deign to clarify what its position on wire photo usage is, so those who enjoy commenting on those have some guidelines to live by without fear of lawyerly pursuits.

“Discussion” and “dissent” are apparently only cornerstones of our republic some of the time. When aimed at the Associated Press, however, they become simple stepping stones.

One hopes that these new Soviet guidelines will be written in such a way that we the proletariat will still be able to read the news without violating their copyright.

Such a thoughtcrime would surely be punishable.

By a courtroom full of wet noodles, with luck.

Brian Ledbetter writes Snapped Shot, a blog dedicated to critiquing photojournalism amongst other things, and is a part of the small but proud club of people who the Associated Press loves to hate.
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