AP takedown fallout

I’m happy to see the AP vs. Drudge Retort story picking up steam. It’s fun watching the way this issue cuts across so many divisions in the blogosphere. It’s a sort of reverse wedge!

We’ve got the paleolithic types at Little Green Footballs calling the AP on its “caveman approach” of intimidating the liberal-minded Drudge Retort site — and agreeing with lions of the Democratic ‘sphere! We’ve got the deans of the tech blogosphere joining media bloggers and political bloggers.

Meanwhile, Patrick Nielsen Hayden alerts us to the wacky form at the AP site that lets you pay AP $12.50 each time you want to quote 5 to 25 words from a story! Gee, thanks! As one commenter at Hayden’s site joked, “Do we get to choose which five words?”

Mark Glaser is good on this controversy, and I agree with him that the boycott calls are over the top. (He’s also got a link to a great discussion of the legal issues from David Ardia.) I can’t see a boycott making a huge difference. But I can see a lot of bloggers just avoiding the hassle of worrying about the AP’s lawyers and finding some other non-AP accounts to link to. AP will ultimately be the loser, as web writers and readers fill in the space AP leaves from other sources. There might be some gaps at first, but they’d get filled in the long run.

That sound in the distance is timbers cracking in the old business-model structure. The AP is a strange beast, dependent on its members, and its members are hurting, too. I’m not surprised that it’s lashing out. But I don’t think it’s helping its own future by insisting that people pay to quote headlines and short excerpts.

In the meantime, the biggest priority here for those of us who care about the long-term health of the web is that we don’t wind up with a terrible legal precedent that defines fair use in some newly constricted way. The people who are calling the AP out on this aren’t crazed piratical scofflaws; they’re journalists and authors, just as I am, people who pay the rent based on the value of the content they produce. But you need some assurance that you can quote brief excerpts or you can’t write non-fiction at all.

(I mean, if I had to pay for every 25-word excerpt of a blog that I’ll be quoting in my next book, I wouldn’t even bother trying to write it…)

UPDATE: On the Times “Bits” blog, Saul Hansell complains that hotheaded bloggers calling for a boycott aren’t helping things; he’d rather see a dialogue in which bloggers might get guidance from the AP about what’s acceptable. Matthew Ingram responds that such a dialogue is unlikely to be fruitful and that bloggers have the law on their side here. This is getting interesting…

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  1. Scott-

    Here’s what I posted to the “Bits” blog in response to Saul Hansell’s comment. It’s for your readers, too, while this Times subscriber awaits to get his mere words approved…

    On the topic of blogger boycotts, I might have some expertise, having studied the blogger “boycott” of TimesSelect. Indeed there was plenty of hot air in May and September 2005, with many bloggers swore off linking to the Times columnists (or even the rest of the paper!), but few kept to the boycott strictly. JD Lasica couldn’t resist a “Paul Krugman nails it” 11 months into his boycott.

    And what was the effect? As best as I could determine, while readership of the Op-Ed’s declined 45%, the number of blog references to the Times columnists declined only 20% as compared to the pundit peers. I shared my analysis with the Times (and other media/academic/bloggers), but had very little help from the Times (and no data) beyond a conversation with Marshall Simmonds.

    http://civilities.net/TimesSelect

    Did the blogger boycott hasten TimesSelect’s demise? Maybe, maybe not: I don’t have the data. Simmonds was not in a position to share the referral data with me, so I ultimately couldn’t make a judgment on it.

    As per this scenario, my guess is that the A.P. has more of a problem with Cadenhead’s “Drudge Retort” looking like a wire feed. There’s a great assortment of things we call “blogs”– and a link-an-excerpt service is much closer to a spam blog or Digg than it is a comment-and-analysis type weblog. One definition of a blogger is that you automatically close ranks around any other blogger in a jam, and hence all the excitement here today.

  2. I’ll add that I realize that DR is not a link-and-excerpt blog. I hadn’t looked very much at the comments.

    I agree with many of Shelley’s points in the other thread. But I am perplexed as anyone else why AP decided to pick on Cadenhead first.

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