Last fall, the Associated Press claimed that it was ready to change to face the new internet world — and that meant not just being a gatekeeper, but joining in the conversation. As we noted at the time, though, AP execs said all that, only to immediately follow that up with plans that looked like it was trying to become a new type of gatekeeper. It didn’t help that the company had also just sued VeriSign’s Moreover division for linking to AP stories along with a title and a tiny excerpt. That sort of thing is clearly fair use — but the AP doesn’t seem to think so.
And, now, it’s expanding its target list. Rather than just going after the big aggregators (surprisingly, Google settled), it appears that the Associated Press is going after bloggers for merely posting a linked headline and a tiny snippet of text from the article. In this case, Rogers Cadenhead informs us that the AP sent 7 DMCA takedown notices last week to his site, the Drudge Retort (a site that mocks the Drudge Report). In six cases, a blog post on the site quoted just a small snippet of text from an AP article (between 33 and 79 words — nowhere near the full length of the article). In every case, they also contained links back to the original AP article. Five of the six used a different headline than the original AP article. The other complaint was about a comment to a blog post, which also included a very short snippet and a link.
On the face of it, it’s nearly impossible to see how this isn’t fair use, even though an AP representative insists it’s not:
The use is not fair use simply because the work copied happened to be a news article and that the use is of the headline and the first few sentences only. This is a misunderstanding of the doctrine of “fair use.” AP considers taking the headline and lede of a story without a proper license to be an infringement of its copyrights, and additionally constitutes “hot news” misappropriation.
Hopefully, they won’t send a takedown notice for quoting that. This is pure bullying on the part of the Associated Press, and a clear overstepping of its legal rights. It’s most certainly not a sign that the organization has adapted to the internet age. In fact, the most amazing thing is that these types of uses (a snippet and a link) clearly help drive more traffic to those AP articles. This is a pure “shoot-self-in-the-foot” move by the Associated Press — and if they have any sense of decency they should issue a very public apology.
In the meantime, since the Associated Press apparently no longer wants traffic, we’ll start looking for other sources when linking to stories. I can’t promise we won’t link to any AP stories (they’re everywhere), but given the opportunity we’d prefer to link to a news organization that’s happy to accept our traffic, rather than one that might sue us for pointing people their way. This is quite unfortunate, as there are many AP reporters who read this site, and with whom I have come to build a strong relationship. I think they’re quite good reporters, and it’s too bad they work for such a short-sighted organization.
Update: Someone from the AP has posted a response in the comments. It makes some claims that simply do not seem to represent reality, including trying to define what is and is not “the link-based culture of the Internet.” It claims that it won’t go after snippets — but doesn’t explain why that’s exactly what it did. And then it responds to a blog post from Jeff Jarvis that I have not seen and did not reference. If the AP seriously wants to respond, why not respond to what is actually happening or what we actually said, rather than someone else. Update 2: I should also note that the comment from the AP includes what appears to be a bit of a sales pitch suggesting that bloggers license AP articles.