Robert Cox, the Media Bloggers Association guy who represented Cadenhead in this matter, has a lengthy post about what happened this week. Go read it. I wasn’t there but I’ve dealt with lots of similar situations as an editor and this all sounds pretty believable. Congrats to Cox for doing what good lawyers do in situations like this: do your best to achieve your client’s goals but also do your best to keep everyone out of court.
Now here’s the crux of what’s at stake. The sticking point for AP seems to be their belief that a headline-and-first-paragraph excerpt is not covered by fair use:
AP’s argument has been that a large percentage of the value of what they deliver is carefully packaged in that content and so the publishing of that information without permission was a copyright violation.
Here is AP’s fear: if they say that doing this once is OK, then, well, doing it twice is probably OK, and you’re rolling down a slippery slope to their nightmare, which is someone creating a whole site based on a reposted feed of AP’s heds and lead paragraphs.
At what number, then, does fair use turn into infringement? Any answer’s going to be arbitrary. The AP lawyers’ suggestion, then, I imagine, is: set the allowable number to “zero” and you don’t have a problem.
The trouble is that fair use law does not, apparently by intention, draw a simple line. It sets up a bunch of criteria that you have to weigh. And so the nightmare reposted-feed site is almost certainly not a fair use. A Digg home page with lots of AP stories? Well, on the one hand Digg is a business that conceivably is taking business value from AP; on the other hand, Digg users rate and discuss stories, so they’re adding them. And AP accounts for only a little bit of Digg’s total volume of stories.
So there are complex, messy issues here. We on the Web can sit back and say, “AP doesn’t get it! They should love us for linking to them!” But AP has what economists call an “incumbent business model.” They have a way of obtaining revenue that they feel is threatened. That they will try to protect it is simply a given. (That AP is technically a cooperative owned by its members adds yet another level of difficulty to the conflict. It probably makes it harder for AP to take any but the most conservative course, since a riskier move — “Let’s bet on the power of links to make our content more valuable!” — would require a broader consensus from a group of already-embattled news executives.)
This story is going to keep unfolding in unpredictable ways. What’s important to me is that, when the dust settles, Joe Random Blogger doesn’t have to worry about the AP lawyers sending him takedown letters because he wanted to post about the day’s news.
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