Wednesday, June 18, 2008

AP's War on Bloggers

I am about to run afoul of yet another potentially draconian copyright restriction. This time it isn't the Canadian or American government that's telling me I'm being a naughty, naughty girl - it's the Associated Press and their brand new definition of "fair use":

The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs

The Associated Press, one of the nation’s largest news organizations, said that it will, for the first time, attempt 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.

...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.

Oh dear. That was 142 words. Well, lets go see what AP would want to charge me for that quote... ouch! Fifty bucks. Well, at least it's just in U.S. dollars. That's ok - I could just go for their 'Free Web Post' option that lets me post the excerpt for a month. With ads, of course.

Oh, but wait... there's those pesky Terms of Service:

...You shall not modify, edit, change or alter in any manner the Content, or create any derivative works therefrom, including translation of the Content.

...You may not email, print, or save the content by cutting and pasting it.

...The Content delivered to You by the iCopyright system under this Agreement contains the Publisher's logo, copyright notice and credit line containing a unique alphanumeric number. You may not remove these elements when printing, copying, displaying,transmitting or making any use of the Content and you may not authorize any third person or entity to do so.

And my personal favourite:

...You shall not use the Content in any manner or context that will be in any way derogatory to the author, the publication from which the Content came, or any person connected with the creation of the Content or depicted in the Content.

Well. I'm just fucked.

I cannot begin to guess what the people at the Associated Press are thinking, but I'll bet it has nothing to do with "the people's right to know".

Saul Hansell of the NYT (who also wrote the article I so shamelessly quoted from earlier) also wrote a little op-ed piece that makes some attempt to see both sides of the issue, and in the process manages to discredit himself as both a journalist and a blogger. Still, he makes a few valid points. Yes, this is an issue that goes way back to the birth of syndicated news. And yes, some bloggers have been known to quote most or all of an article with a minimum of commentary in the "Look what I found!" mode of blogging that we've all been guilty of now and again.

Such wholesale lifting of text is sometimes in response to online articles being firewalled by newspapers, in which case the argument could be made that it is costing them money by distributing for free what they are trying to charge for - however much we cheapskates may object to the practice. More often, however, it is merely a symptom of laziness on the part of the offending blogger. If this is something blogger does on a regular basis, the problem solves itself because nobody reads blogs like that.

In general, though, I have found most bloggers to be very responsible in the use of quotes from articles. They rarely exceed two or three paragraphs, and they invariably link back to the original article, thus increasing readership for the original author and publisher. The ones who don't... well, like I said, they get old pretty quick.

Don't get me wrong. I get the whole 'intellectual property' thing. I do. I'm a writer. I myself have been the victim of plagiarism, and let me tell you - it leaves you feeling violated and used. But let me explain the difference to you:

I am the author of a little self-published, self-distributed book entitled "Raido, the Runic Journey". If you have to ask you probably don't want to know, but suffice it to say it is a rather well regarded book amongst those who care about such things and it sells consistently and well. As a public service, I have even posted about 70% of the book's text on my website - to no detriment to my book sales, I might add.

I have often been asked permission by other websites to re-print some or all of this text, and I have generally granted permission on the condition that a) I was clearly identified as the author, and b) a link was provided back to my website. I eventually stopped granting permission to reproduce because not all of them did (oh, look, there's another one), but in general the whole arrangement was profitable for me and helped put my website at number four when you Google "runes".

Then one day someone pointed out a website that not only contained entire paragraphs lifted verbatim from my book, but was quoting them from an actual, professionally published, dead tree book called "Cryptorunes" by Clifford A. Pickover. Not only that, but this Pickover character was, in fact, a PhD from Yale who really, REALLY should have known better.

In the end there wasn`t much I could do except call him out and insist that he stop using the quotes to promote the book on his website, which he did. I couldn`t prove damages or even afford a lawyer, and I suspect he wasn`t made of money anyway, but he was sufficiently sheepish and did agree to get me in with his publisher if I wanted, so I didn't call Yale. (and oh look - he's got a blog!)

My point (and I`m getting to it) is that this particular case constituted both copyright infringement and plagiarism because a) the offender was presenting my work as his own, and b) he was using my work for monetary gain without my permission. If it had just been some guy who got lazy with a website providing free information, then I'd just yell at them and leave it be. If he had actually put quotes around my words and said, "This part is from 'Raido, the Runic Journey' by Jennifer Smith", then I would have been thrilled to bits for the extra business.

In cases like the ones the AP is all up in arms about, however, AP and its writers aren't losing any money, the bloggers likely aren't making any money, nothing is being misrepresented, and if anything both AP and its writers are benefiting from the added exposure. Therefore, I can only assume there is something else going on here. Maybe it's about money. Maybe it's about control. I don't know.

BTW, in the time it took me to write this post, the article I quoted at the top disappeared behind a firewall, and the only way to access it now is to sign up for "Free Registration" by telling the New York Times your name, age, job title and household income.

Household income?

I think I get it now.


  1. I have signed up for several of those "registrations" and i never use any real info anyway.
    I have a junk email account, a fake name and if anyone asks I make over 100,000. How accurate is the registration anyway?

    Oh, and

    AP just fired the first volley against bloggers. Others may follow. Time to use the indy media more and more. I use alternet often now.
    Screw the traditional media. They are dying fast, because they can't join this century.

  2. I too was going to mention bugmenot, like Pale did.

    And you've certainly got the right ideas about this AP poop they are spreading around.