A quiet take on the AP

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Some people are still “waiting” on the AP to deliver a definitive guide to what can or cannot be copied of the AP material without risk of a DMCA notice. We really don’t need to wait, nor do we need anything from the AP. We have copyright laws in this country, and they include the concept of “fair use”, which we can continue to use as guide for our own writing.

People do need to look at how they quote and use other’s work. If you feel that your use is justified and covered under Fair Use provisions, than full speed ahead and damn the consequences. You may be served a DMCA; you may not. Receiving one is not a judgment, and you won’t be pulled into jail. In fact, you don’t even have to respond by pulling the material if you really feel you’re on the side of the law.

I wouldn’t necessarily expect that you would get legal help, though. This environment tends to favor the noisy and the known. If you’re neither, chances are you’ll be on your own if you get a DMCA. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel free to quote others, or to use AP material. It just means that you have to accept the consequences of your actions when you publish online, and use other’s material.

As for the AP’s DMCA notices being supposedly based on title and lede/lead, alone, whereby the lede is the first few sentences of the story, I think we were misdirected into focusing on the content of each individual quote, rather than the context of all the quotes, combined.

AP licenses entire stories, but it also licenses a feed of AP news items reflecting just the title and lede of the story. You can see an example of licensed material at the Huffington Post. Notice that the copyrighted material in this context is not limited to an individual story, but to the grouping of titles and ledes for several different stories.

People have been making an assumption that the AP is upset that people are quoting one title, and one lede. We’ve ignored the hints given in relation to Drudge Retort that it was a pattern of posting, of quoting multiple titles and multiple ledes over time that ultimately resulted in the AP issuing the DMCA.

If we consider that the ledes are only 30 or 50 words, it seems unreasonable for the AP to resort to the DMCA. However, if something like the Drudge Retort duplicates 3, or 5, or more of these syndicated story titles and ledes, what the site is doing is actually “copying” what amounts to 10, 30, 30% or more of the AP copyrighted material— not a few words of an individual story, as first discussed.

If the AP charges a site like the Huffington Post to publish this syndicated set of titles/ledes at the site, and something like the Drudge Retort is duplicating a significant number from this set, using virtually the same titles and lede wording, without adding additional commentary, the Drudge Retort could very well be violating the AP’s copyright, and doing so in such a way as to cause financial harm to the AP.

The issue really is, and the AP stressed this, copy and paste publication. If you copy and past the title and the lede, add no commentary, you’re not adding value to what you’re publishing. You’re just duplicating the content. There’s nothing wrong with pulling out an individual quote from a story you like and publishing it by itself. However, if your publication falls into a pattern that is very similar or even equivalent to an individual or group’s copyrighted publication of the same, don’t expect to get all huffy because you only publish a few words from each story.

We shouldn’t extrapolate from the AP to something like delicious or the Planets (RDF, Drupal, Intertwingly, and others), because they’re not the same. I don’t know of anyone that licenses their syndication feed and would feel financial harm if this syndicated feed was republished with a group of others. The purpose of the Planets is to give exposure to individual publications/people who do not get exposure from being part of a major news source, like the AP. However, taking our syndicated feed and republishing it in its entirety at another site, which then runs ads that benefit the second site is a different story. In fact, if we decry the existence of “splogs” we should find ourselves on the side of the AP, if we’re being intellectually honest.

Now, some would say that the AP really will go after us if we only publish one title and one lede. Please forgive if I doubt any such thing would happen. Commonsense would dictate this, if nothing else. And commonsense is what we should be using when it comes to copyright and fair use.

I’m really not defending the AP so much as I am disappointed at how quickly people are willing to pile-on when the right stereotypes are triggered. We see the AP, big company, the Drudge Retort, small publication, and we become effectively blind—to both reason and fairness. More disturbingly, we become ripe for manipulation from those who care little for the consequences of the event, as long as the attention keeps flowing. The AP can protect itself, but the same cannot be said of every target of the pile-on effect.

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