Another look at the AP blogging fiasco

After cooling down and thinking about the situation more, I’ve got some new thoughts.

The Associated Press is in bind, with very few good options. AP makes money off of selling their content for someone else to publish, which is quite different than a media organization like The New York Times. The Times makes the vast majority of its money off of advertising.

The Times doesn’t have to charge for content and, in fact, doesn’t online. Having blogs like The Drudge Retort (the dumbest and most unoriginal blog concept ever, by the way) link to Times’ content, directly contributes to the Times’ bottom line. The powers that be at the Times probably don’t mind people taking short excerpts of their content in exchange for links.

But linking doesn’t directly contribute to the bottom line for the AP. The AP only makes money when they sell their content for someone else to repurpose. Perhaps bloggers will need to treat wire service content different than other content.

In the end, I think the AP should have left well enough alone. The Drudge Retort is not worth their time, and that blog doesn’t need AP content to survive or thrive. If I was going to risk a public relations nightmare (and that’s what this whole situation ultimately has been), I would have gone after a bigger, more insidious target.

Nobody can deny that lifting entire works, or large parts of a work, without compensation is wrong. But to challenge the Fair Use Doctrine over excerpts is a very poor position to be in for a company that needs freedom of speech to survive. Someone will have to decide what is Fair Use and what is copyright infringement. That someone should ultimately be legislators or judges — not journalism organizations.

If I were the AP, I would have handled this behind closed doors, without “heavy-handed” takedown notices (the AP’s words, not mine). I would have said, “look, our content is different than other media content on the Web; we need to talk about what is and what isn’t appropriate when it comes to our content.” I would have approached it as a conversation, instead of attacking bloggers for “breaking the law” (the Fair Use Doctrine is very murky, by the way).

The AP’s original actions were overly reactionary, kind of like my original post on this subject. That’s why I’m here looking at this issue from the other side. I understand AP’s dilemma, but I think they found the worst possible way to approach this issue.

Although, judging by how much of the journalism and blogging communities are reacting, maybe my original post was too kind. It’s a shame that the AP has not shown any real Web-savvyness and, honestly, might be threatening its own future. This isn’t the first time, either.

You have to pick your battles, and this was a poor battle to pick.

  • Well said. That was one of my initial thoughts, as this fiasco brought out all the arguments for the linking to original content, etc. Yes, news orgs like it when they get quoted in blogs and then linked, because they’re hosting their own content, with their own ads, and getting credit for the page views. (I’m not sure how the AP/Google relationship works, but that may be the exception — I think they get a cut of the Google ads on those pages.)

    But AP’s hands are essentially tied, when member news sites can post their content online AND get the blogger link back. That site gets the extra page views — the AP gets nothing else.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a PR flub and an affront to Fair Use. AP will probably back off quite soon and be forced to come up with another strategy to get what they want.