Thoughts on AP’s quest to crack down on Internet sharing

The AP is planning on encasing its content in a DRM-like “wrapper” to ensure that their content and headlines aren’t used without their consent — and without payment.

Being paid for your work sounds like a good idea. But the AP is going further than ever before with its copyright claims over its content, and blatantly ignoring Fair Use:

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Asked if that stance went further than The A.P. had gone before, he said, “That’s right.” The company envisions a campaign that goes far beyond The A.P., a nonprofit corporation. It wants the 1,400 American newspapers that own the company to join the effort and use its software.

The AP either has never heard of the Fair Use Doctrine or openly opposes it. I’m betting on the latter. Now, it’s important to note that Fair Use is a defense, not a right and it doesn’t explicitly spell out anything about word counts, headlines, links, etc.

But from the people I have talked to, headlines and links fall under current definitions of Fair Use. The question then is this: Is the AP gearing up for a court battle? If they implement this policy they will find themselves in court by at least the EFF and probably many more.

Some more thoughts:

  1. I hope the AP didn’t spend too much time or money developing this DRM-like “wrapper” — Hackers will quickly break whatever copy protection AP devises, and I’m not sure how many member newspapers will join in anyway. Beyond that, I’m not convinced this wrapper will survive legal challenges. This could have been a giant waste of time and money.
  2. This wrapper better not harm user experience – DRM always works like this: It never stops people who really want to steal or break the law, but it almost always hinders law abiding, paying customers. Will this extra layer of code eat up CPU cycles and RAM, bring computers to a halt and not even work on some machines? My guess is that this negatively impacts law abiding users. User experiences matter.
  3. People may simply stop using AP content — If AP content is to become inherently un-Web friendly (unsharable, which is how the Web works), wouldn’t it stand to reason that people will simply use other content instead? I like sharing links. If the AP wants to stop me from doing that — and by extension, sending traffic their way — I’ll read and link to other content. There is nothing the AP does that is that unique that I can’t live without the AP.
  4. Not everyone at the AP thinks this is a good strategy — From what I can gather from people I know at the AP, not everyone is on board with this strategy of fighting how the Web works. The AP feels like a disjointed company. Some clearly don’t get the Web and dislike it, while others at the company are developing kick-ass Web and mobile apps. The AP has one of the premiere news apps on the iPhone, and yet other people at the AP dislike the Web. I can only imagine the division decisions like these are creating.
  5. Maybe the AP wants a court challenge — Fair Use remains a murky concept on the Internet, and a lot has changed with the fortunes of traditional news publishers. Even though I don’t think a court challenge would go the AP’s way, if they received a more favorable view of Fair Use handed down by the courts, it might be a game changer.

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.

Dear Associated Press, you’re dead to me

I’m officially boycotting the Associated Press.

Today. Tomorrow. Forever.

Please do not forward me links to AP stories. There are plenty of other news outlets that cover the same exact stories from the same exact angles. But most of those news outlets aren’t bat shit stupid about the 21st century.

Why am I so angry? The AP just said fuck you to Fair Use. They just said fuck you to America. They just said fuck you to each and every one of us.

AP wants to charge people for taking excerpts as small as 5 words from its stories. 5 words?!?! I can understand asking for compensation if people lifted large passages of your work or the work in its entirety but for 5 words?

This is such an incredibly 20th century policy. People linking to AP stories is good for the AP. It sends traffic to their content.

The symbiosis that bloggers and media outlets have enjoyed over the past 10 years has been beneficial to all. In exchange for taking excerpts of content (which is permissible under Fair Use), bloggers link back to the original source. That way if people are interested in the topic, they can read more about it, which makes money for the original media outlet.

Patrick Nielsen’s analysis is spot on:

The New York Times, an AP member organization, refers to this as an “attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt.” I suggest it’s better described as yet another attempt by a big media company to replace the established legal and social order with with a system of private law (the very definition of the word “privilege”) in which a few private organizations get to dictate to the rest of society what the rules will be.

You see what I did there? I took an excerpt of his post, and, in exchange, I linked to the original post (which you should all check out). I’m going to send his post a lot of traffic, which will make him and Making Light more money.

Heck, that’s why it is called the World Wide WEB. It’s a WEB of interconnected information. Can you imagine a world in which merely excerpting small amounts of information will result in you owing at least $12.50? Or $100?

This whole episode also has massive ramifications for free speech as Cory Doctorow points out (which the AP claims to like):

Welcome to a world in which you won’t be able to effectively criticize the press, because you’ll be required to pay to quote as few as five words from what they publish.

The people pushing for this stuff are not well-meaning, and they are not interested in making life better for artists, writers, or any other kind of individual creators. They are would-be aristocrats who fully intend to return us to a society of orders and classes, and they’re using so-called “intellectual property” law as a tool with which to do it.

Bloggers, citizens and people who believe in the rule of law should band together and pledge to boycott the AP, unless they drop this ridiculous policy.

Interview with an enthusiastic adopter, Paula Froke

Paula Froke has jumped headfirst into the world of online and multimedia journalism with her upstart blog, Paula’s Adventures in Multimedia.

While she may not have been born a digital native, she has quickly become an enthusiastic adopter. And as the Deputy National Editor for the AP, she is a manager, not a content producer. So she doesn’t have to learn all this stuff, but she has anyway.

That’s the kind of manager journalism needs. Her blog is helping to inspire other mid-career journalists to try new things. Paula’s blog has been making its way around the journalism blogosphere, and people like Mindy McAdams have been impressed with her work and spirit:

I’m also in love with a new blog called Paula’s Adventures in Multimedia. Paula is a journalist somewhere, I don’t know where, but she’s taking us along for the ride while she and her colleagues learn to make slideshows and do podcasts and shoot video — and it’s really fun!

Below you’ll find an interview I had with Paula recently. The cliff notes of it is this: Learning multimedia and online journalism is fun and not nearly as difficult as you think.

1) I know your time at Poynter in January was one of the inspirations for starting your blog. What were your multimedia skills prior to then?

After 23 years as a print-only editor, I got my feet wet last year by shooting — but not editing — one video and producing one podcast, both as introductory training efforts in what was then our multimedia service for younger readers. That inspired me to buy an HD camcorder and a new laptop. Then I taught myself basic video editing with iMovie and did a couple of personal videos. Howard Owens’ list of 2008 objectives for non-wired journalists gave me more ideas and goals, and that combined with Poynter kicked everything into higher gear at the beginning of this year. Literally. I wanted to start the year off well, so I shot a personal video on Jan. 1, edited it on Jan. 2, and uploaded it to YouTube — a major thrill.

2) What are your multimedia skills today?

My skills are still relatively rudimentary, but I’m confident that if time and my position allowed, I could fairly easily shoot and edit an acceptable news video for Web publication (with iMovie; I still need to tackle Final Cut). I was astonished and delighted when a complete stranger saw one of my personal videos and asked me to produce a video of him for entry in a reality show contest (I declined — I’m not THAT confident — but now he’s trying again and wants me to do part of it.) I could produce audio slideshows and podcasts, again if time and circumstances allowed. I certainly have a far, far greater understanding and appreciation of the power of all of these formats.

3) Why did you end up starting your blog?

I supervise traditional print editors whose job as it’s now defined involves being appreciative of other forms of journalism done in our other departments, but not actually doing it themselves. Like me, I think they were both intrigued and intimidated by the possibilities of the evolving world of journalism — but weren’t at all sure how to get started themselves. As I gained more comfort and appreciation through what I was learning on my own, I wanted a way to share that with everyone on the staff. A blog seemed ideal — I could talk about it in a casual way, and have a multimedia format with which to share the results of my own efforts and theirs. It’s given me a chance to take a “learn as I learn” and “if *I* can do it, you can too” approach and to encourage them to learn in a low-key, fun kind of way. I’ve tried to make it clear that I’m willing to look foolish for the sake of learning, and I think that’s helped. It also gives me a way to let them do guest posts and share their own video, slideshow, podcast and Web site creation efforts.

4) What’s the biggest thing you have learned from it?

How fun, fulfilling and liberating this kind of work is. It’s been absolutely fascinating to learn how to convey stories in ways far beyond what I’ve done all my life. A second thing: There is, in fact, a fair amount of crossover among the formats. A lot, though certainly not all, of what makes a good story and what’s required of a good editor and a good reporter is similar from format to format: compelling detail and quotes, vivid color, strong drama, cohesive structure, and of course, accuracy, integrity and ethics. I think the more you learn in each format, the better you get in all of them.

5) How hard was it to set up your blog and begin producing multimedia content?

The blog itself was remarkably easy to set up. I did it literally in between bites of pasta while hovering over my laptop in the kitchen the night I returned from Poynter. Once I got the idea in my head, I was so excited about it that I just plunged in. After that I just kept plunging. For better or worse, I took a scattershot approach — delve a little into video, a little into audio, a little into HTML, invite others on the staff to share what they’re learning … the result was something not at all structured and therefore perhaps not all that instructive or helpful. On the other hand, it is indeed a recounting of what I learn as I learn it, and I think there’s something to be said for getting a broad exposure to as much as you can in the early goings.

6) How do you see your new skills impacting your journalism career?

They certainly open up a lot more possibilities in every area — as a manager, as an editor and as a multi-format reporter. I mean possibilities for me personally, and possibilities for far more meaningful journalism reaching and touching a far wider audience. It’s extremely exciting.

7) Do you have any advice for mid-career journalists looking to learn new online/multimedia skills?

Short answer: Just do it. And have fun.

Longer answer: While I took a wide-ranging approach, it might be more reasonable to pick one area that’s especially appealing to you, whether it’s creating a personal Web site, starting a blog and uploading photos to it, borrowing a camera and shooting some video, doing a podcast or whatever. Find a knowledgeable co-worker or friend or a cheap intro course — for instance, whatever the local Apple store offers, even if you don’t have a Mac! — to help get you started. Take advantage of a wealth of online resources for tips and techniques. Consider tapping into your personal life for opportunities to practice — I’ve been doing videos of New York Cycle Club rides, which give me plenty of chances to work on shooting and editing. Don’t be afraid to look silly or to fail. Seek feedback from others. Study the work of those who excel at this. And — have fun.