Ownage?: AP tries to decide what is fair use for bloggers

In several recent blog and news stories (including my favorite headline of the bunch: The Associated Press plays role of Metallica in Napster-esque war with bloggers), the AP’s stated fair use policy for bloggers is discussed.

And what is the limits of AP’s version of fair use? If a blogger wants to use more than 5 words, they are expected to pay:

  • 5-25 words: $12.50
  • 26-50 words: $17.50
  • 51-100 words: $25.00
  • 101-250 words: $50.00
  • 251 words and up: $100.00

So what are some of the problems with this plan?

First, the logistics. While the AP is claiming copyright in every word that they have in every article that isn’t accurate. How could the quoted words of McCain or Obama be copyrighted by the AP, for example? What if quotes could be from more than one news source? This policy discourages bloggers to link back to AP stories. (The head of the Media Bloggers Association claims that the whole situation was blown out of proportion by bloggers).

Second, the limits of fair use are fluid on purpose, allowing for use of copyrighted works ranging from quoting poetry to photocopying a book chapter to including incidental music in a documentary. Perhaps if the AP created factors for when licensing was required similar to the copyright fair use factors then this licensing plan would not be so derided (example: charging a fee only if the blog has ads).

Third, while only online activity is discussed by both the AP and critics, copyright law is the same in real life as it is online. What is different are the social norms that have been created differently online.

The AP argues that (from a NY Times article):

“Cutting and pasting a lot of content into a blog is not what we want to see,” he said. “It is more consistent with the spirit of the Internet to link to content so people can read the whole thing in context.”

Scott Rosenberg writes:

The “spirit of the Internet” has always been about linking and excerpting. Actually, the “spirit of the Internet” is probably even more about wholesale copying.

Bloggers range in their approaches to linking, quoting, and copying. Perhaps there should be a normative standard for bloggers. But I can’t imagine that through a “best practices” model or through following a more journalistic standard that fair use on blogs will be judged to be no more than four words.

And as a fourth and final point, as stated by Robert Cringley:

“There’s precious little original journalism in blogs; 99% of bloggers are repeaters, not reporters…. Blogs need people who know how to do reporting; the AP needs the kind of viral distribution only the blogosphere can bring. We need to figure out a way we can all get along here, lest we all perish in the copyright wars.”

Or as John Abell states more bluntly on Wired,

The bifurcation of publishing and news-gathering is disrupting the journalism eco-system as never before. …Here is the problem: if nobody pays for news –- or rather, if the people that gather the news aren’t paid -– then there is no business model for journalism.

In a world where physical newspapers are shrinking and staffs are cut, it makes sense that the AP would want their work to be valued. But this is the wrong way to go about it! As Jennifer Leggio states, the snowball / backlash effect could further damage the print journalism industry:

the situation reeks of the same type of censorship concerns debated during the Metallica vs. Napster fan law suit several years back. While Metallica (and the other musical acts behind the suit) likely never intended to create the legal monster that it did, the music industry was never the same. Music sharing permanently moved to a paid model. And, well, Metallica lost a lot of fans.

Lesson: Don’t promote self-ownage through abrasive use of copyright.

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