The Associated Press takes on bloggers…

…and loses.

The Associated Press, a once respected newswire organization has gone on the offensive against the demons that are bloggers.

Basically, AP took a hard line with a blog called the Drudge Retort (not to be confused with the Drudge Report) and issued a takedown notice for 7 stories they had posted.  Apparently, the Drudge Retort had accepted user submissions (much like news aggregator sites like Fark, Digg etc.) and posted a very short excerpt of the story.  The AP readily admits that the number of words were between 39 to 79 in the excerpt, not even close to a substantial part of the article.

And then the blogs got mad.  Several major blogs ran this story and heavily criticized the AP for their tactics.  Their argument is that short excerpts constitute fair use of the material, and oddly enough legal scholars tend to agree.  The NYT (a big fan of the AP, and a part owner) says:

“The principal question is whether the excerpt is a substitute for the story, or some established adaptation of the story,” said Timothy Wu, a professor at the Columbia Law School. Mr. Wu said that the case is not clear-cut, but he believes that The A.P. is likely to lose a court case to assert a claim on that issue.

Now, AP is backtracking so fast I’m afraid they may fall over.  They’ve decided they won’t sue bloggers (though they have not withdrawn the takedown notices from the Drudge Retort) and are instead “reviewing their policy”.  They plan to come up with a set of guidelines about what is or is not acceptable for bloggers to do.  They’re partnering with a group called the Media Bloggers Association.  They’re an organization with no official power.  Gawker Media has led the offensive against the MBA and pointedly ridiculing their self-defined legitimacy.  It is true that there’s absolutely no way MBA has any power or even comes close to representing bloggers (4080 Records, for example, is by no means affiliated with them).

The amusing part of this scheme is the sheer arrogance of it.  Bloggers are indeed subject to the law, but are not subject to whatever ‘guidelines’ a service like this comes up with.  As long as it is covered under fair use, blogs can go ahead and do what they please with AP stories.

AP seems so keen to prevent blogs from “copying” their product, yet they haven’t quite understood just how important blogs are in driving traffic to their sites.  This “paid content” wouldn’t really pay anything if it wasn’t for people linking and sharing the news with others.  So, many blogs have started to refuse to link to AP stories anymore, in response to this ridiculous move.  There is a boycott aggregator at the UnAssociated Press that is keeping track of things, and is a pretty interesting look at the situation.

And while I can’t speak for the rest of the contributors here at 4080 Records, I can say that any posts I write from now on will not be sourced from the AP.  I’ll find a competing story in Reuters, Agence France-Presse or anywhere else I can.  Of course, it’s easier said than done.  Since the AP is co-owned by 1500 newspapers, many places source from them without making it obvious.

I have no problem with trying to protect content within reason. If someone is going around and completely copying and pasting AP articles in its entirety, then sure, go ahead and sue away.  But c’mon, a short excerpt and a direct link to the article? That’s just dumb logic.

What’s amusing is the parting shot the VP of the AP takes at RIAA.  They’re desperately trying to spin this so it doesn’t seem as if the AP is being unreasonable:

““We are not trying to sue bloggers,” Mr. Kennedy said. “That would be the rough equivalent of suing grandma and the kids for stealing music. That is not what we are trying to do.”

Unfortunately, the AP is losing this war.

[Sources: Gawker, NYT, Guardian]