Copyright is a funny business. When taking words, music or film to market required expensive manufacturing and distribution operations, it was easy to make money by selling them. Now that everything is digital, copies fly around the world on the Internet, reproducing at will. It's harder to maintain the business—in fact, it's hard to justify a business based solely on duplicating and distributing the work of others. And it turns out that, to a copyright business, creative is a noun referring to their product, not an adjective that might apply to business strategy. If you haven't seen any blogs in the last day or two, you might think that I'm writing about the music or film distribution business, but now it's the Associated Press. In the face of a changing media environment, they've put Legal in charge of strategy.
Last time I heard about AP, they were suing Moreover over the redistribution of headlines and excerpts. Now, they're after bloggers, attempting to define away Fair Use. The new rules come down to this:
- Don't quote AP stories, not even a little.
- Don't write new headlines based on AP stories.
- Don't use AP headlines to link to AP articles.
- Unless you're willing to pay.
Next, AP Sues Reader for Remembering News
The new position from the Associated Press is contrary to the public interest, not least because unlike AP v. Moreover, they started this round by asserting the primacy of commercial interest over political speech. The importance of free expression in the political sphere is sort of the point of the first amendment. Public policy aside, though, this is just a bad move by AP, reflecting a complete failure to understand the online environment:
- Bloggers are not entirely unaware of copyright law, including fair use (which is not defined by AP). If one blogger calls AP's C&D bluff and it goes to court, expect the defenders of the First Amendment to line up in the blogger's suppport.
- Facts are not subject to copyright. If a blogger writes a new headline for a news event, the blogger owns the copyright.
- Links are valuable on the Internet, to the extent that rational businesses pay for links in an attempt to improve their position on search engines. AP should thank bloggers for linking to them with their chosen keywords.
- When considering the effect of the use upon the potential market, remember that AP sells advertising on its own website. Part of the impact of excerpts and links on blogs is positive, driving more viewers to AP's ads.
Maybe putting Legal in charge of publicity was a mistake
Legal just isn't good at dealing with bloggers. They're all about protecing the company (their job) at the expense of considering the market's reaction (not their job). But, as usual, someone with a clue about Internet culture should have been involved. It's clear that they weren't this time.
There is no such thing as bad publicity......and didn't realize that wasn't all.
...except your own obituary.As it stands, AP just gave emerging media a solid reason to prefer Reuters (NYSE:TRI)—or, even better: original sources. What's the purpose of intermediaries in the age of global distribution?
—Brendan F. Behan
Hint: not one "AP" or "Associated Press" link above leads to the AP site. No point in linking to a company that doesn't like links.