17 June, 2008

Dear Associated Press: Bite Me

Warning to all of you who like to quote long stretches of Associated Press articles: they're gunning for you (h/t Carpetbagger):

For a blog to feature news content from an Associated Press article is about as common as the sunrise, so it came as something of a surprise last week when the news agency went after a prominent liberal blog for what seemed like a minor excerpting issue.

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, of course it would. The AP is one of the most commonly linked to news outlets on the planet. If bloggers can’t excerpt 79 words from an article, it’s going to have an effect. It was encouraging that the AP realized that its aggressive posturing towards the Drudge Retort was, in fact, “heavy-handed.”

The result, according to the NYT, is an effort on the part of the Associated Press 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.”


I think it's time for the AP to join the real world. First off, trying to impose ridiculously strict standards on bloggers' use of their content is going to be like trying to put out a 100,000 acre crown fire with a garden hose. They're going to be spending far more in legal fees than they'll recoup from protecting their copyright.

It's a losing battle: those thousands upon thousands of blogs, many run by amateurs who don't know the first fucking thing about copyright law and who could give a shit anyway, aren't going to be intimidated by the AP going after a few prominent sites, so the long-winded excerpts will continue apace. I wouldn't put it past a good number of bloggers to start exerpting 80 words just out of spite. It's a lawless digital frontier, my friends, and I don't see Dodge being cleaned up anytime soon.

There's going to come a time when copyright law will have to catch up with the internet, no question. And I think it's going to have to stretch the definition of "fair use" here to include longer excerpts. What these clowns don't seem to get is that the internet's a different animal than print media. In print, a long excerpt can mean that folks won't go to the original source to obtain the rest of the work, simply because it's too much of a pain in the arse. Online, if the excerpt intrigues you, all it takes is a click, and voila - the original copyright holder gets some love they wouldn't have gotten otherwise. Clicks are gold out here.

Restrictive standards will mean that bloggers will either ignore you and excerpt anyway, comfortable in the knowledge that the AP can't go after everybody, or that bloggers will simply say, "Fine, then, fuck you and your little dog, too" and excerpt someone else. I doubt the AP has such a monopoly on news that bloggers can't find other sources to work with. And this "say a few words and then link to our story" position they seem to be taking is just silly - I can't speak for the rest of the blogosphere, but I'm not willing to show restrictive assholes any love. When I link someone, I'm basically giving them free advertising. I'm not going to do that if I'm not getting anything in return - in this case, a decent chunk of text to riff off of.

Have to admit, though: I haven't really given this much thought. As a writer, I'm of course interested in copyright and protections for the originator of a work, but I also realize that what goes up online is pretty much fair game. I personally am delighted when folks filch a chunk of my blathering for their own blog, because of the link love - as long as they're not copying the whole of a post, they're giving credit where due, and I get more traffic out of the deal, it's all good. When I quote other sources, I try not to take more than a third or so of the article or post in question - just enough to get the point across, and, hopefully, get a click through to the source's site, so they can feel the love. After all, I enjoyed reading the damned thing: my readers might as well. And everybody gets the attention they deserve.

I know corporations don't think that way. But there's got to be some sort of happy medium here. What's fair use on the digital frontier? How much of an excerpt is too much? Is copyright law even going to survive in the digital age?

The floor is open.

3 comments:

NP said...

I'm of the mind that you should treat online excerpts as you would print excerpts. Cite your sources properly, use excerpt respectfully of the author (even if you're using it to disprove the author's point), and everyone should get along fine.

After all, if authors are writing to share their ideas, wouldn't they be happy to get exposure elsewhere, as long as they get credit for their work?

I smell an Elitist Bastard article....

Cujo359 said...

I'm always happy when people quote me, but I'm not making a living from the Internet - what I think about that isn't necessarily germane.

I've tried to use the "25 percent" rule - if I'm quoting an article that's longer than a single page, I try not to quote more than 25% of it. Of course, if I'm writing a criticism of that work, that may not be possible, but it is in most cases, because I'm just using a quote to help make a point.

Of course, the most firm rule is to always provide a link, that's both respect for the original author and the reader. The reader should know where the idea came from.

In practice, though, few readers seem to click on the links. I can understand the AP's frustration, but their stance is unrealistic.

Meanwhile, there's a site that has been set up to follow this issue. Of course, they have an online petition.

Brian said...

It's pretty simple Dana. It you don't want your content copied, don't post it on an open source website.

I say boycott AP and when their Google rank plummets into the 2 million bracket, they may sing a different tune.

I copy and link snippets on occasion, but normally just link. And I never copy from this blog, because of the dire consequences. ;)