AP Responds to Blogger Boycotts with a Sit-Down

Certainly blogger credibility has been a hot topic here and now a new twist has come into play.

Here’s the breakdown:

Last week the Associated Press filed takedown notices against the Drudge Retort (a small news community whose name is a parody of the more prominent Drudge Report) for use of its content on the site.

By Saturday, online protests urging bloggers to boycott the AP were set up by the aptly-named UnAssociated Press. The boycott encourages bloggers to make use of other agencies’ material in response to the AP’s takedown notice.

Meanwhile the blogosphere lit up this weekend with criticism against the AP for going after a small blogger who appears to be in compliance with “fair use” provisions of copyright law. (The Drudge Retort included links back to the AP articles and attributed proper credit to the original authors.)

Yesterday (Monday), in response to the blogger reaction, the Associated Press announced plans to meet with the Media Bloggers Association to help form guidelines under which AP news stories could be quoted online. Jim Kennedy, the AP’s director of strategic planning, said that meeting’s goal is to “create standards for online use of AP stories by bloggers that would protect AP content without discouraging bloggers from legitimately quoting it.”

Today many bloggers are accusing the Associated Press of trying to control the blogosphere. Michael Arrington, a blogger who has boycotted the AP, wrote on his TechCrunch blog that the Associated Press “doesn’t get to make its own rules about how its content is used, if those rules are stricter than the law allows … they are trying to claw their way to a set of property rights that don’t exist today and that they are not legally entitled to.”

Arrington goes on to outline his stance on the boycott, stating: “So here’s our new policy on A.P. stories: they don’t exist. We don’t see them, we don’t quote them, we don’t link to them. They’re banned until they abandon this new strategy, and I encourage others to do the same until they back down from these ridiculous attempts to stop the spread of information around the Internet.”

Techcrunch hit home on the real issue here: fair use. Are people allowed to take small quotes from the AP stories for the purpose of starting a discussion or reporting news, while giving proper credit and linking back to the original author?

Intellectual property attorneys say the issue falls into murky legal terrain because the original law was drafted pre-web. And, it’s isn’t just the AP trying to navigate these waters. Last year, Google agreed to a licensing deal with Agence France Presse, which claimed indexing its leads to the wire service’s stories amounted to copyright infringement.

Nancy Mertzel, a New York intellectual property attorney with Thelen Reid, explains the danger in any precedent set here, “If there was a court decision that said quoting from a news story was an infringement, then I think a lot of blogs would have to rethink their business model.”

Kennedy said the AP had no intention of making such strict rules or setting any kind of legal standard. He also said AP was reconsidering how and when to send legal notices to bloggers in hopes of giving them “a little more leeway.”

Meanwhile, some bloggers are upset that the Media Bloggers Association is even involved. According to Bloggers For Change, “…[the] Media Bloggers Association, of course, are walking right into that meeting because they crave nothing more than creating the impression that they, you know, represent bloggers (they don’t). But anyone with an inkling of understanding of the law and principles at stake would know that the AP has no ground to stand on, and anything negotiated between them and the MBA will be ignored by the vast majority of bloggers anyway.”

I am not a legal scholar, but I certainly recall my college courses in libel law and basic copyright infringement, and from my limited experience, I have to agree with TechCrunch and the others. As long as a blogger uses proper accreditation, there is no infringement. The blog, Copysense has an interesting and legal perspective on the case, which I encourage folks to read. It’s rather long, but it outlines the specific codes of conduct that are currently on the books.

In the meantime, it will be very interesting to see how this plays out.


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