AP sends cease-and-desist to -- itself!; Update: AP responds

Unlike some in the blogosphere, I have some sympathy for the Associated Press’ efforts to force aggregators to stop carrying its stories in their entirety.  Granted, the AP has acted like buffoons with bloggers, refusing to credit blogger sources in their stories and attempting to impose a ridiculous word-count standard for fair use, so my sympathy for their intellectual rights is somewhat limited.  But when they start attacking their affiliates for using their content, I think the entire project has run off the rails (via Joe Gandelman):

Here is another great moment in A.P. history. In its quest to become the RIAA of the newspaper industry, the A.P.’s executives and lawyers are beginning to match their counterparts in the music industry for cluelessness. A country radio station in Tennessee, WTNQ-FM, received a cease-and-desist letter from an A.P. vice president of affiliate relations for posting videos from the A.P.’s official Youtube channel on its Website.

You cannot make this stuff up. Forget for a moment that WTNQ is itself an A.P. affiliate and that the A.P. shouldn’t be harassing its own members. Apparently, nobody told the A.P. executive that the august news organization even has a YouTube channel which the A.P. itself controls, and that someone at the A.P. decided that it is probably a good idea to turn on the video embedding function on so that its videos can spread virally across the Web, along with the ads in the videos.

The entire point of posting videos on YouTube is to make them go viral.  If AP wanted to protect its videos from bloggers, as an example, they could set up their own native player that couldn’t be embedded.  In fact, as TechCrunch points out, YouTube offers the option of turning off the embed code so that people can’t post the video on their own sites.  And if a user discovers later that they don’t want the content shared, the user can delete the video altogether and reload it for private use..

But the larger point here is that WTNQ isn’t some random blog site.  WTNQ pays the AP to be an affiliate, which should give them the right to redistribute AP’s content.  In their zeal to ensure that no one “steals” AP’s content, they’ve attacked a paying member of their network.  WTNQ tried explaining this to the AP execs, to no avail. This YouTube video interview explains it — and it’s not an AP video, so feel free to help this go viral:

The affiliate relationship actually works both ways, as Andrew Malcolm reminded us in our show on Tuesday.  The AP gets access to material developed by their affiliates and republishes them on the wires.  They can take WTNQ’s reports and republish them at any time.  Unfortunately, the AP doesn’t appear to grasp the bi-directional nature of the relationship too well.

I understand why the AP has a problem with Google, for instance, which takes the material and republishes the articles in their entirety, depriving the AP and its affiliates of ad revenue.  However, if they’re going to start attacking affiliates (and anyone else) for using the embed codes that the AP approves on their YouTube channel, then this project can be renamed Operation Beclown Ourselves immediately.

Update: Third Pipe suggests that the AP look at the Terms of Use at YouTube.

Update II: Read the comments; several have links to Google’s response to AP, which is that they bought licensing rights for several million dollars in order to republish the content.  Has the AP just decided to declare war in general on its distribution partners?

Update III: The Associated Press sent me this response, which I’m publishing in full:

There was a misunderstanding of YouTube usage when the Tennessee radio station was contacted by the Associated Press regarding the AP’s more extensive online video services. No cease and desist letter was drafted or sent by AP to the station at any time. The AP was trying to offer the station a superior service for their needs.

Tech Crunch actually claimed that it was a cease-and-desist letter, but I meant it more figuratively in the headline — like a note asking the station to knock it off.  There’s a difference, and if anyone got confused, I certainly apologize.