The AP Nuisance Letter (Updated)

The Associated Press’s mau-mauing of the blog Drudge Retort (notice the ‘t’—it’s not Matt Drudge)

The Associated Press, one of the nation’s largest news organizations, said that it will, for the first time, attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.’s copyright.

The A.P.’s effort to impose some guidelines on the free-wheeling blogosphere, where extensive quoting and even copying of entire news articles is common, may offer a prominent definition of the important but vague doctrine of “fair use,” which holds that copyright owners cannot ban others from using small bits of their works under some circumstances. For example, a book reviewer is allowed to quote passages from the work without permission from the publisher.

Fair use has become an essential concept to many bloggers, who often quote portions of articles before discussing them. The A.P., a cooperative owned by 1,500 daily newspapers, including The New York Times, provides written articles and broadcast material to thousands of news organizations and Web sites that pay to use them.

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.

I can understand and even sympathize with the A. P.’s viewpoint. I find the thousands of blogs which consist of little else than citing in full a newspaper article, magazine article, or another blog’s post nettling. If you look around here, you’ll note that most of my posts consist of reasonably short quotes with a considerable amount of commentary and analysis.

If the A. P. were in the least serious about defending intellectual property rights, they’d have organized a group to sue Google over its failure to crack down on the thousands of automated spam blogs, scraper blogs, and other obnoxious beasties that are a blight on the blogosphere and which I have no doubt are, at least in aggregate, a greater threat to the A. P.’s intellectual property rights than The Drudge Retort is. Practically all of these are Blogger blogs and I believe that Google makes it too easy for the obnoxious jerks preying off the news media and the blogosphere alike.

What’s most aggravating to me about the A. P.’s actions is that there are perfectly good ways for the A. P. to prevent (or, at least, discourage) people from linking to their articles or including quotes from them. I encounter these every so often and routinely defeat them as a sort of intellectual exercise but most bloggers don’t have the time, skills, or inclination to do that. The A. P. could insist that their subscribers put such measures into place and, basically, nobody would ever link to an A. P. story or quote it. Self-defeating, it would seem to me, but there you have it.

The Associated Press, like most other publishers, fails to understand the essential nature of the Internet. Having your content published on the Internet isn’t like printing a book or a newspaper or even a radio or TV broadcast. It’s like printing the material on a million flyers which are posted in the town square. When you put it on the Internet you expect it to be seen, linked to, and, er, sampled.

The real result of this shouldn’t be the silly boycott that some bloggers are organizing. What really should happen is that the 500 lb. gorillas of the blogosphere e.g., the big tech blogs, the gossip blogs, Glenn Reynolds, Kos, and a handful of others, should take the Associated Press to court. It wouldn’t take a lot of counter-litigation to eat up any possible revenues the A. P. could hope to realize by harrassing relative small fry. But that will never happen. Bloggers are lambs.


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.

11 comments… add one
  • I actually quote the AP all the time, in the sense of referring to it as an AP report or the work of an AP reporter. But, yes, the link is almost invariably to YahooNews or some other AP distributor rather than to the AP site itself.

  • My point is that the AP is a sort of wholesaler, a distributor. It sells to its subscriber members and the members post on their own web sites. It seems to me the real problem is between AP and its member subscribers.

  • Dave, the noise created by that “silly boycott” is what caused the AP to rethink its bullying in the first place. More, if the bipartisan boycotters hadn’t blogged it, the NYT would never have heard of it.

    Regards, C

  • Bloggers a organizing a boycott and petition at

  • Post hoc propter hoc, Cernig. Frankly, I doubt that the boycott has much to do with it.

    There had been several days of noise prior to the organization of the boycott. I suspect that in that time a couple of things happened. First, the AP realized how dumb and counterproductive their letter had been and, second, somebody pointed out that they could be inviting countersuit.

    As I suggested in the post, if you want to get their attention, file suit. I’m sure an enterprising lawyer can find grounds.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I believe the bloggers that received take down notices from AP can seek a declaratory judgment action to decide whether or not the particular posts were fair use. Since fair use it so circumstance specific, I am not sure that would help anyone decide whether future posts were or were not fair use.

  • Dave, I saw Rogers Cadenhead’s email about his post on the LBAN list about 20 minutes after it went up on Friday. The boycott was started that day.

    Regards, C

  • “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.”

    Nor have I.

    I could be way off here but I’d thought the AP to be a news syndicate of sorts that agencies could buy the rights to reproduce what pieces traverse their wire. In this respect anyone reproducing an AP report would have already paid to do so.

    This sounds a bit like a symptom of the mainstream’s nervous watchfulness of the blogosphere as circulation is down and free media is up.

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