Today, the Associated Press took bloggers to task by stating that they do not allow anyone to quote excerpts from their articles. They specifically went after The Drudge Retort, a left-leaning political site that aggregates short bits of content from around the web as selected by their readers, and told them to remove remove seven items that contained quotations from articles ranging from 39 to 79 words.
Many sites and blogs on the web, like The Drudge Retort, link to articles of interest on other sites by displaying the title and a short excerpt of a few lines from the original article, with a link to click through to read the rest of the article. This is considered accepted practice under the laws of fair use, which state that people can quote from other publications without asking for permission from the creator in certain circumstances. The New York Times gives the example of a book reviewer, who does not need to ask permission from the publisher in order to quote parts of the book in their review.
The blogosphere has not taken AP’s actions lightly. In a post titled “Here’s Our New Policy On A.P. stories: They’re Banned,” TechCrunch says that AP should consider all these links a favor, and that they can’t make their own rules. TechCrunch says that AP has taken this type of behavior too far, and as a result AP is now banned on TechCrunch until further notice:
So here’s our new policy on A.P. stories: they don’t exist. We don’t see them, we don’t quote them, we don’t link to them. They’re banned until they abandon this new strategy, and I encourage others to do the same until they back down from these ridiculous attempts to stop the spread of information around the Internet.
Plagiarism vs. Fair Use
I am strongly against stealing content. People work hard to create intellectual property, whether it’s movies, music, or writing, and just because it’s easy to steal doesn’t mean that it’s ok. At the same time, the web is about sharing content, and sites enjoy greater success the more their content is recommended and linked to by others. Sites like The Drudge Retort aren’t copying content – they are linking to the original source with short excerpts. By threatening people who share their content, AP is causing themselves damage two-fold:
- They look like the big, bad corporation who looks down upon the plebes from their ivory towers.
- People will think twice before sharing their articles with others on the web for fear that they will be sued.
The big bad corporation is an unsavory character that doesn’t mesh with today’s web. Instead of shunning its audience and those who want to share its content, AP may want to consider learning what the web is about today, and working with it rather than against it.