wasting bandwidth since 1999

Information is Out of Control

If you don’t hang around the echo chamber that is the general blogosphere, then you are missing the latest big fight over copyright in the age of the web.

This one is between the Associated Press and just about everyone else. Here are the basics of the dispute:

Last week, the Associated Press decided that the Drudge Retort was in violation of copyright laws because it excerpted parts of AP stories and linked to them. The AP legal team sent a cease-and-desist letter to Drudge Retort’s owner, the technology book author Rogers Cadenhead.

I hope I’m not in trouble for using that short excerpt from a much longer post at the excellent PBS-sponsored blog MediaShift.

Probably not if another writer at MediaShift is to be believed.

In fact, it is very likely that the posts AP is complaining about on Drudge Retort are permissible fair uses under the Copyright Act. First, several posts appear to be offering commentary on recent news items. The use of another’s copyrighted work for the purpose of criticism, news reporting, or commentary, will generally weigh in favor of fair use.

Second, all of the posts use fewer than 80 words from the original AP articles. While there is no bright line that defines how much of a copyrighted work can be copied and still be considered fair use, courts will consider the amount and importance of the material copied in assessing what is permissible. I can’t tell how long the original AP articles were, but it’s likely that all of the articles were substantially longer than 80 words.

Third, it is hard to see how the posting of AP headlines and 80 word snippets could possibly impair the market for the original AP articles (when evaluating fair use claims, courts are most concerned with whether the copying will undercut the market for the original work).

I’m no expert on copyright law but I think I have a good idea of where the line exists between fair use and abuse.

This kind of stupidity by the AP (and other old media companies) only blurs that line and confuses people who don’t pay close attention into believing they have no rights, or at least far fewer than the law allows.

Instead of trying to keep every word they publish in their own corral, the AP should welcome and encourage the thousands of bloggers who send traffic to their sites every day.

They also need to realize that they deal in a very basic commodity, information with a very short half-life.

And once published on the web, it’s pretty much out of their control.


  1. Dave

    I feel like maybe the AP is trying to lockdown their content, and in some cases the public pages that have the largest amount of the original AP story are critical. The answer would be for the AP to make sure there’s a public page with more of the article than the critical page can legally post…

    …but really most news articles are pretty flash in the pan, anyways…by the time the AP gets around to sending a cease and desist, the value of the content they’re claiming to try to protect will be almost nothing.

  2. Bellringers

    I think any attempt to control information or how it’s disseminated has a chilling and negative impact on democracy. How can a democracy survive if ideas/information cannot be freely exchanged? Am I missing something here?

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