AP’s Battle with Bloggers Continues…

As I reported yesterday, the Associated Press arranged a sit-down with the Media Bloggers Association in response to boycotts over their litigious actions against a small Blogger who quoted and credited an AP story.

Now, the AP wants all Bloggers to pay to quote them. Yep. You read that right. The global press service has announced a Web Use Charge for AP passages as short as 5 words in length. This includes passages that are not stolen; not plagiarized – but fully attributed and quoted directly with links back to the AP source.

The pricing scale for using AP content begins at $12.50 for 5-25 words and goes as high as $100 for 251 words and up. Nonprofit organizations and educational institutions enjoy a discounted rate.

Now, I will always speak out against plagiarism. As a writer myself (and not just of this blog), I truly understand the total violation of someone stealing your work and your words. But, like so many of my colleagues, I can’t get my head around how this pricing model will be enforced.

Rather than paraphrase what others are saying, allow me to quote them directly (for free and with all due accreditation).

PoliGazette.com asks: What’s considered quoting the AP? If President Bush says something, and the AP quotes Bush, are we then not allowed to quote Bush anymore because the AP also quotes him?

BetaNews asks: Suppose a news source holds a press conference and makes a statement to several attendees including an AP correspondent. Does the citation of that quote count as an excerpt of an AP story? What if Reuters cited the same quote? Or worse, what if Reuters cited the quote differently, and a Blogger noticed the difference and excerpted both for comparison? If the AP citation turned out to be in error, would the Blogger still owe?

Should “boilerplate” words count towards the fee? For example, a phrase common among news stories is “XYZ Company had this to say” when prefacing a published statement or quote. If the AP runs a story with this phrase, will it therefore cost anyone else $12.50 to use this 10 cent expression?

Michelle Malkin, in a rather hilarious twist, adds that she found several examples of the Associated Press quoting her Blog directly (without links back or accreditation). Malkin estimates that by the AP’s pricing model, she is owed $132,125.

With that in mind, I have most certainly seen leads from The Drudge Report and posts from The HuffingtonPost quoted in AP stories. Perhaps Matt and Arianna were adequately compensated.

And, I’d add to the debate: what about the citizen-journalists who break major stories? Talking Points Memo, for instance, broke the Alberto Gonzalez story – which was picked up by major news channels, including the AP. Was David Kurtz paid by word? TPM was also instrumental in the reporting that led to U.S. Senator Trent Lott’s resignation, which was certainly picked up by major market media. Other Bloggers like GigaOm and TechCrunch have broken major news and have been directly quoted by major media, including the Associated Press, with no Web Use Charge for its online reporting of their stories.

Likewise, if you read my blog, you know The New York Times followed Bloggers’ lead in the Target PR blunder. Were those folks compensated when the AP picked up the story? And, what if the AP runs information gathered from Brew Blog, does Miller get paid?

Finally, how about Reporter-Blogs? As we’ve already seen, 95% of the top 100 newspapers offer Reporter-Blogs. Yet, traditional media are exempt from paying to reprint AP news.

Timothy Wu, a professor at the Columbia Law School said the case is not clear-cut, but he believes that the AP is likely to lose a court case to assert a claim. “One important legal test of whether an excerpt exceeds fair use is if it causes financial harm to the copyright owner. I hardly think a Blogger, especially one who has issued proper accreditation and who links web site traffic back to the Associated Press, can be proven to have caused financial harm.”

So…the saga continues. I will keep you informed…

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