Fighting With The Past

Lately, the Associated Press has been complaining loudly about the people who have been “stealing” their content.

In their minds, that includes everyone from Google (which actually has a contract to use their news feed) on down to any blogger who has ever quoted from one of their stories.

And they have a plan to do something about it.

What do bloggers and a 1918 newspaper syndicate have in common? According to the Associated Press, both are wretched hives of scum and villainy–parasites, if you will, sucking a healthy living from the AP’s expensive newsgathering operations.

And the AP means to do something about it, reviving a legal doctrine it helped to create back during World War I: the concept of “hot news.”

The Court ruling created the “hot news” doctrine, in which groups like the AP are granted a pseudo-property right to breaking news stories. The right is quite limited, generally applying just in situations where another party rewrites the news “without independent investigation and verification.”

And the modern-day version of this dispute has implications that go beyond a single blogger including a few lines from an AP news story.

Depending on how hard it pushes the “hot news” idea, the AP (and similar services) could spark a new war over the quasi-ownership of facts. Fair use, which applies in copyright cases, would not be a defense against a property claim, and most journalists arguably violate all five of the “hot news” tenets listed above.

It’s an interesting story, one that’s worth a few minutes of your time to read.

But the AP’s approach to this “problem” is more about news gathering and distribution from 90 years ago than it is about the information business in the modern world.