AP Fight: Protecting Content Or Temporarily Quelling Discontent?

boycott-apThe Associated Press vs. The Blogosphere

There’s a battle brewing between the Associated Press and the Internet. The gist…the AP sent DMCA notices to one Drudge Retort, a community news website that was republishing one-liners from their news stories. The AP is apparently opposed to websites quoting their stories – they’d rather just have a link, despite the fact that using short excerpts of news stories is well within the bounds of presently defined “fair use.” The AP says this move is all about protecting content, and they are going to set up “new standards” for the use of their stuff.

But let’s face the fact – the AP has long been THE source of printed news in the US. Once strictly controlled via agreement and paper-based distribution, the traditional media is now losing it’s stranglehold on the mindset of America. News is now sliced and diced, consented to and criticized. The AP knows newsprint has one foot in the grave, and they are pushing their way to the web, syndicating content with traditional news outlets’ websites as well as with the Yahoos and Googles of the world.

Their thought process is likely as follows… if we allow websites to directly republish content, there is both control over the substance of said content as well as a potential revenue stream. Stories are posted and directly attributed to the author/source. And even if we lose those languishing newspapers, we’ve still got Yahoo! and Google, who have assured us that there is plenty of traffic to keep us busy. By controlling each and every word, we can ensure our partners that they have (exclusive or semi-exclusive) rights to those words. [Fair enough]. And if a blogger wants to link to those stories, great. That’s just a bit more traffic for our partners and ourselves.

On the other hand… having some person in their pajamas pick your writers’ work to pieces, calling them out on either their glaring errors or blatant bias doesn’t lend to the AP’s credibility. It is difficult for a blogger to make a point about a story without an excerpt – bloggers know too few people will click through a link and parse out the relevant passages to which they refer – without quotation, blogging becomes much less effective as an argumentative mechanism. Influential political and technology bloggers are already boycotting links to any and all AP stories, as well as links to anyone who links to AP stories. Frankly, it’s the political part I’d be worried about.

Curiously, this kerfuffle comes at a time when we have critical elections right around the corner, and more Americans than ever using the internet to validate prevailing opinion. The AP’s move seems unmanageable – they may be able to make a point by bullying a few low-tier bloggers, and they may also get a few larger players to cease and desist under the guise of protecting their fiefdoms. But over the long haul, it would be virtually impossible to police the entire internet for suspected “infringement” – the AP and its partners would have to create an entirely new budget line items solely for sending out DMCA notices (although I doubt the lawyers would care).

It makes me wonder if this move is a tactical ploy – attempting to scare the internet into submission. It’s a vain attempt, but those pissed off bloggers will boycott our content for a while, essentially playing right into our hands.

UPDATE: I’m giving the AP credit for potentially being extremely shrewd. Others are not.

UPDATE 2: It isn’t a first for these folks. Simon Owens gets into the details.

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