Blind Man with a Pistol

The Blog Driver Waltz

The Associated Press has had it with bloggers. Or at least, they are expressing concern that bloggers might be playing too fast and loose with “fair use” copyright, and frequently cite and repost AP stories without paying for it. “As content creators, we firmly believe that everything we create, from video footage all the way down to a structured headline, is creative content that has value,” Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of The A.P, says in the NYT article linked to above.

Fair enough. The excessive reproduction of articles and editorials wholesale is intellectual theft, and essentially amounts to mindless proliferation of information without critical engagement. The best quality of blogging is its capacity for pluralistic, independent analysis of political and cultural events, not simply blogging for the sake of it (of course, it’s funny how close those two approaches come sometimes). The A.P. has a right to protect itself and its journalists, and they do seem to be approaching it in a thoughtful and considered way—they plan to meet with members of trade group Media Bloggers Association, among others.

But in their lawsuit against the Drudge Retort—which spawned this whole mess and has yet to be withdrawn—they target a post that quoted eighteen words from an A.P. article plus a 32-word direct quote. Here is the passage in question:

Hillary Rodham Clinton says she expects her marathon Democratic race against Barack Obama to be resolved next week, as superdelegates decide who is the stronger candidate in the fall. “I think that after the final primaries, people are going to start making up their minds,” she said. “I think that is the natural progression that one would expect.”

Not exactly scintillating, Watergate-type stuff. The original post, however, now removed, incited 108 comments. How, exactly, can the A.P. pursue this lawsuit with a straight face?

What’s more, as City University of New York journalism professor Jeff Jarvis points out, it’s a bit rich for The Associated Press to pretend such self-righteousness when their raison d’être is the homogenization of original, diverse journalism into the A.P. style and brand.

This complaint comes from an organization that leaches off original reporting and kills links and credit to the source of that journalism. Yes, it has a right to reproduce reporting from member news organizations. But as I point out here, the AP is hurting original reporting by not crediting and linking to the journalism at its source. We should be operating under an ethic of the link to original reporting; this is an ethic that the AP systematically violates.

In fact, as Jarvis points out elsewhere, The A.P. made a deal with Google that effaces the work of the original journalist and makes Google the effective content producer. The deal allows the Internet software behemoth to display new stories not from the source, but from the wire. Perhaps, then, this latest attempt to short-circuit unique, independent and multivocal analysis and comment is part and parcel of the overarching strategy of the Associated Press after all. No sourcing unless it’s to us, no writing unless it’s bland, undistinguished and branded.

The good news is that whatever the A.P. tries to do, I have a suspicion that bloggers won’t hold much truck with it. Stand up for fair use, Associated Press. It is the only principled position you’ve got.

Hat-tip to skdadl at Bread n’ Roses.

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