The Associated Press plays role of Metallica in Napster-esque war with bloggers

The Associated Press first heard blogger outcry when it served take-down notices to the Drudge Retort. Now the press service is talking about attaching licensing fees to all of its content.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

The Associated Press created a feeding frenzy when it first filed seven Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) take-down notices against the Drudge Retort, claiming that the blog aggregator violated fair use copyright guidelines when repurposing The A.P.'s content. As ZDNet's Denise Howell pointed out on Monday, The A.P.'s attempt to set more clear re-use standards for bloggers is an uphill battle, as "the legal standard is unclear, and subject to interpretation on a case by case basis."

It appeared at first that The A.P. was heeding community outcry when Saul Hansell of the New York Times reported that Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of The A.P, claimed the goliath news service was going to reconsider its policies:

“We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this,” Mr. Kennedy said.

The situation, however, has now morphed from a slap on the wrist and into a dollars and cents game. Yesterday BetaNews reported that The A.P. is now instead assessing a licensing fee for republished content, which looks a little something like this:

  • 5-25 words: $12.50
  • 26-50 words: $17.50
  • 51-100 words: $25.00
  • 101-250 words: $50.00
  • 251 words and up: $100.00

Tim Conneally makes some fair points in his coverage of the new fees, calling out all of the potentially convoluted situations in which both The A.P. and the bloggers could find themselves considering fuzziness around the U.S. Copyright Act and the fact that bloggers could potential quote a subscribing newspaper vs. The A.P. itself. Conneally also poses the question of whether simple commonly used introductory phrases or attributions would be considered in the word count for the fines.

Concerns for this usage restriction go far beyond bloggers alone at this point. What happens to companies who receive news coverage via The A.P. and want post it on corporate sites, social media newsrooms or corporate blogs? Will they be assessed a fee, too? Even further, will The A.P. soon start charging teachers and students who participate in news evaluation projects in the classroom? "I'm sorry Tommy, you'll get an 'F' unless you pay $12.50 out of your allowance to The A.P." Or maybe little Tommy would be protected as long as he didn't publish his analysis on his Web site.

Another quote from Hansell's NYT article on the matter:

“We are not trying to sue bloggers,” Mr. Kennedy said. “That would be the rough equivalent of suing grandma and the kids for stealing music. That is not what we are trying to do.”

Try or not, I fear that may be the direction in which The A.P. is moving. Perhaps I am taking this a bit too far (especially in exploiting little Tommy) but this is the type of situation that can quickly escalate out of control and shake an industry. While The A.P. certainly is not metal band material, nor to Kennedy's point has it yet engaged in any law suits against bloggers, the situation reeks of the same type of censorship concerns debated during the Metallica vs. Napster fan law suit several years back. While Metallica (and the other musical acts behind the suit) likely never intended to create the legal monster that it did, the music industry was never the same. Music sharing permanently moved to a paid model. And, well, Metallica lost a lot of fans.

The A.P. will meet tomorrow with the Media Bloggers Association to discuss, and with hope, hammer out a more reasonable workaround for bloggers who want to use The A.P.'s content. Some bloggers already claim to be done with The A.P., many going as far to participate in an organized a boycott of the press service's articles, touting a petition and encouraging others to use Reuters and smaller news organizations who have not seemingly taken an offensive stance against the blogosphere.

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