Monday, June 16, 2008

AP vs. the Bloggers

The Glittering Eye has a good post on it.

Apparently the crux of the suit is "fair use."

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.

Good Lord, thank the heavens it wasn't the "New York Times." They can't write a lede up there in less than 40 words.

Eighty words or less seems seriously, absurdly small. Especially because one of the things blogs do well, and indispensably, and uniquely, is "fisk." And to do that, you have to basically reprint the entire article, rebutting it line by line, including the structure.

What is the AP thinking? I think Dave is on the right track here:

Does the Associated Press have a cause of action at all? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a blogger quote the Associated Press but I’ve seen lots of bloggers quote various newspaper and other web sites in which Associated Press material is included. Wouldn’t the newspaper or other A. P. subscriber need to be the complainant? Perhaps some smart lawyer could straighten me out on this.

I'm neither smart nor a lawyer. But the AP is still, at its roots, a consortium of newspapers and broadcasters (it began with the New York press pooling its coverage to exploit the one telegraph wire that could carry news back east from the Mexican-American War).

Anymore, three-quarters or more of AP coverage is generated by AP itself, but the rest is still passed up and passed around by the member papers. Who pay for the right to use this copy and illustration as they see fit.

And they pay a lot. An AP subscription is well into six figures, even for a moderate-sized daily newspaper in a small city (subscription rates are scaled by circulation). You get a lot of gear with this: Satellite dishes, etc.

But the amazing fact is, AP has been giving away the same content online for years now. I've been astonished by this. One night a few years ago when I was working as wire editor, the power failed downtown and we couldn't work on our computers. I went home, six blocks away, where all the lights were on, and was basically able to do my job from my household Yahoo account: I could see all the stories, see all the pictures. The only thing I couldn't do was move them into the newspaper's pagination system.

Why on earth is the AP charging newspapers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for this content, which the publishers then have to turn around and try to sell to the public, when anyone can see it in full, for free, online?

It takes a bit of effort to get directly onto the AP site or its photo stream. Almost nobody links directly to AP, as Dave notes. On the other hand, all it takes is for the newspaper in Boise, say, to post up an AP story on its Web site, and everyone in the world can read it for free.

I don't think the AP wants to do much about that; at least the Boise paper's Web advertisers get exposure, in that case. Though whether the reader from Bangladesh wants to download the coupons for the free undercarriage car wash in Boise is a dubious proposition.

But when the article appears whole as a Freeper post, no one anywhere in the AP's food chain benefits at all, and it is a net detriment to all the member organizations.

That's why I think they attempt to draw this line in the sand. What they don't seem to realize, or want to realize, is that the sand they're drawing in already is 8 feet underwater, thanks to the dam they allowed to collapse 10 years ago or more and can't fix now.