The New York Times reports that on Tuesday the Associated Press eased off their initial threat to evil, quote-stealing bloggers worldwide. Last Friday, the AP issued an ultimatum to the blog Drudge Retort (not to be confused with the Drudge Report), asking them to withdraw seven specific posts that included AP quotes. They cited the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in their request. It all sounds fairly reasonable until you realize that the DMCA was signed into law in 1996. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to take another look at that law, hmm? After a very unsurprising backlash from the online community, the AP has decided to cool its jets a little. Not wanting to appear “heavy-handed,” the renowned non-profit news cooperative has decided to re-think their policy towards “fair use” of copyrighted material.
It’s not like a situation like this was unexpected by the news wires. After all, bloggers have been freely grifting headlines and sometimes entire stories from AP-client news sources (such as the New York Times) for years. I think most of the criticism of the AP for the initial crackdown is warranted, since I believe that the more public and free news discussions the better. But the idea in general – that the AP no longer has control over its protected material – is fascinating. Does this mean that ALL copyrighted material is potentially fair game? Probably not, of course. What I think is likely to emerge from this situation is some sort quasi-contract agreement between the blogging community and the AP, whereby bloggers are allowed to legally “sample” AP quotations (to an extent), much like how musicians “sample” music of the past.
If it’s worried so much about bloggers unfairly exploiting their news, why the heck does the AP have RSS feeds for its stories on their website? Could they honestly not prepared for this confrontation a little better? Maybe even put incentives for blogs who have RSS feeds to the AP? Seems to me like the AP is looking to be two very different things at once – equally part of both the Old and New Media. The real issue here is the difficulty of transitioning to an age where information doesn’t necessarily have to have a copyright to be valuable. It’s no longer the news that’s worth money, it’s the vehicle bringing that news to the reader. Blogs – yes, even the Drudge Retort – are slowly being accorded the respect they deserve by stubborn Old Media organizations like the AP. Most newspapers have adopted online discussion as a major part of their delivery, and for that reason they are still incredibly useful and relevant.
But what happens when the granddaddy of news wires, a vanguard of modern journalism, has trouble adapting to this new landscape? Does it signal an approaching sea change for news distribution? Perhaps. Regardless, the AP and other wires have two options: change or die out. As trite and boiled-down as that sounds, it’s the truth. The times are a-changin’, and the wire services would do well to wisen up and stay with the rest of the crowd.