AP Wants to Charge for Links!

08Apr09

A story banging around a lot on the Internet the last couple days is the story how AP is looking at nailing people for using their copyrighted content online. Recent articles from TechCrunch, WebProNews, and the New York Times, just to name a few, mention that the AP is going after big search engines like Yahoo and Google, and sites that gather headlines form all over the web and direct you to the sites carrying the story (i.e. Drudge Report).  There seems to be a certain amount of concern over this press release by the AP (somewhat ironic–a press release by the Associated Press).  If you read the comments on these articles you get the sense that everyone is seeing the whole RIAA fiasco return.  People keep talking about the “Fair Use Doctrine”, linking to their articles is the only way people ever go to AP’s website, and that if the AP goes through with this it will just mean the eventual end of the Associated Press.  I went poking around several of the sites mentioned, and I actually think AP has a point.

When I go to Google’s news page and click on one of the Headlines attributed to AP, I get directed to a web page on Google with the AP headline and story reprinted verbatim, surrounded by ads which financially benefit Google.  Same goes for Yahoo’s news page.  Now when I click a headline on Google attributed to anyone else (Reuters, New York Times, FOXNews) I get sent to the appropriate web page at that site.  So I get Reuters web site with the ads that Reuters is getting paid to run along-side Reuters content.  What they are doing with Reuters, et. al., seems to me to fall appropriately under “Fair Use” as understood in the U.S. Copyright Act.  What Google is doing with AP seems more akin to me taking the latest Tom Clancy novel and typing the entire thing onto a web site which I then surround with ads to make money off of.  Most people would agree that the latter is clearly NOT “Fair Use”.  Remember doing research papers in school and getting repeatedly warned about plagiarism?  If the Google and Yahoo headline attributed to AP would instead link to AP’s news website I think we would have a whole different story.  Then AP would derive the financial benefit (yes, their website has ads, too) from the link to their story.  When it comes to local level stories, they tend to link to the source.  Heck, I found Google News linking to a local University newsroom. (You can substitue Yahoo! for Google in this paragraph and everything still stands true.)  The Drudge Report has a lesser issue in my eyes.  They have headlines labeled as AP but they send you to various other news sites which at least (or so I assume) do license the content from AP.  If it were my decision, I would just knock off the “AP” designation and be done with it.

This actually started earlier than it seems on the surface.  Back in June, betanews reported on the AP sending a DMCA takedown notice to the anti-Drudge Report site the Drudge Retort citing instances where contributors violated copyright laws.  The site complied with the takedown request, so I don’t know exactly what the issues are, but I get the impression that several contributors quoted sections of AP stories verbatim without attribution, although they did link to the actual stories.  Long quotes (one was 83 words, almost 10% of the length of this blog entry) is where you can get into trouble easily.  That long of a passage copied out of the encyclopedia would have gotten you an “F” on that research paper for sure if the teacher found out, unless you used proper attribution–my teachers still would have given me a lousy grade because even attributed the quote would be too long–“Use your own words!”  Their success in getting the Drudge Retort to pull the material so easily (they sent notice on June 10, 2008 and the offending items were gone by June 16) might have gotten them thinking, “Well, that was too easy.  Let’s see how far we can push it.”

Perhaps the AP is simply trying to get a firmer definition of “Fair Use”.  They haven’t completely gone off the deep end, even if some of their public statements sound like it.  They do have options on their site for reuse licensing.  The big one that gets talked about is the $12.50 for an excerpt as short as 5 words, which does seem insane.  But there is an option where you can post it on your website, word-for-word, in its entirety for FREE.  Caveats are you can use it for a 30-day limit and it includes ads, AP logo, copyright notice and links.

No, I’m not trying to be naive.  Yes, it really does all boil down to the money.  AP, being a business, wants to get paid for the use of its material.  Everyone seems to be joining Google and Yahoo in jumping up and down in fury at the Associated Press.  People seem to be forgetting that Google and Yahoo are not a public service just because we don’t get billed for it, they are not some magical mystical entity, they are not like sunshine and fresh air.  They are also businesses trying to make money where they can and not pay for things they don’t have to.

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2 Responses to “AP Wants to Charge for Links!”

  1. Their success in getting the Drudge Retort to pull the material so easily (they sent notice on June 10, 2008 and the offending items were gone by June 16) might have gotten them thinking, “Well, that was too easy. Let’s see how far we can push it.”

    The DMCA does not permit a web publisher to fight a takedown request by keeping the material online. You have to remove it *and* file a counterclaim. Even then, you have to wait a certain number of days before reinstating the material. It’s a terrible law.

    • Good to know. I guess if I’m going to keep publishing online I better review the DMCA. I’m not sure if I was just assuming the removal was being a tacit admission of guilt. Also I kind of thought (hoped?) “innocent until proven guilty” might apply. It does make it seem a little to easy to get content taken down, at which point the web publisher might be more inclined to just not bother fighting it. In contrast, when Dan Brown was getting sued for plagarism of Da Vinci Code, the book kept getting sold and the movie stayed on screens.


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