The Associated Press tried rewriting the concept of fair use last week in an intimidation campaign against the blog Drudge Retort, threatening legal action for copyright infringement for linking to its stories and including two or three sentences from the text. The New York Times reports that the blogospheric response — a boycott of links to the AP — has the wire service acknowledging its “heavy-handed” response. Thankfully, the AP will now determine at what threshold it wants to start its intimidation tactics in the future:
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.
The quick about-face came, he said, because a number of well-known bloggers started criticizing its policy, claiming it would undercut the active discussion of the news that rages on sites, big and small, across the Internet.
Well, baloney. The about-face resulted from a large number of bloggers deciding not to send their readers to the AP’s sites, which would impact the advertising revenues gained from the extra traffic. The AP’s clients most likely explained that in an era of declining ad revenues for the news industry, they needed all the help they could get. The AP’s policy would have cut sharply into their sales — and would have eventually pushed those sites to use Reuters, AFP, BBC, and UPI feeds instead.
Why do bloggers link and quote any of the articles we use as springboards for discussion? It’s mostly to give credit to the reporting organization and to give readers a sense that we’re accurately representing the article. When we criticize the reporting, it helps to demonstrate where it went wrong. In all cases, the link allows readers to quickly check the source material and decide for themselves about the story and the reporting. In that manner, we provide readership for at least some articles that may otherwise go unnoticed by Internet readers.
Most bloggers respect “fair use”, which gives us the ability to use a small portion of the text without fear of legal action. Some bloggers copy most or all of the article, which does violate the copyright protection afforded the publishers of the article, and the AP has every right to challenge that practice in court. But the idea that quoting two or three paragraphs of a lengthy article damages the value of the work, when in fact it usually prompts much more traffic, is silly on its face and shows that the AP has very little understanding of the economics of the environment in which it and its clients operate.
They seem to have learned a little more about that in the past week. If they develop an explicit policy for fair use, bloggers will adapt to it soon enough. We will certainly appreciate that approach rather than a campaign of intimidation, which got the proper free–market response this week.