The 800-pound Gorillas of Cyberspace

Let's pretend for the moment that I write a blog -- I obviously don't, but let's pretend -- and I want to quote a story from the Associated Press, or, for that matter, from  I'll probably copy and paste a few lines from it, and add a LINK.

Let's pretend that the AP objects -- as they clearly do when others copy so much of AP stories that nobody bothers to click on the LINK.  Here's what Seth Sutel of the AP wrote about his own organization's pitched battle with the world's bloggers--it threatened to sue for copying its stories, then backed off when bloggers heaped abuse on them:

"NEW YORK (AP) — The Associated Press, following criticism from bloggers over an AP assertion of copyright, plans to meet this week with a bloggers' group to help form guidelines under which AP news stories could be quoted online.

"Jim Kennedy, the AP's director of strategic planning, said Monday that he planned to meet Thursday with Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, as part of an effort to create standards for online use of AP stories by bloggers that would protect AP content without discouraging bloggers from legitimately quoting from it.

"The meeting comes after AP sent a legal notice last week to Rogers Cadenhead, the author of a blog called the Drudge Retort, a news community site whose name is a parody of the prominent blog the Drudge Report.

"The notice called for the blog to remove several postings that AP believed was an improper use of its stories. Other bloggers subsequently lambasted AP for going after a small blogger whom they thought appeared to be engaging in a legally permissible and widely practiced activity protected under "fair use" provisions of copyright law."

Now, there's a fair amount of information in that excerpt.  Will you bother to click HERE for the rest of the AP story?

The AP, like other mainstream media, has a franchise to protect.  They're out gathering information to pass on to you.  Every time someone clicks on their story -- every time, in other words, that you look at their actual story, and not some blogger like me copying and pasting it -- a small amount of money makes its way to them. 

You may be well aware of the legal notion of "fair use," which holds that if someone's copyrighted material is the subject of your news story, or blog post, or whatever, you may use excerpts from it without permission.  I've often exercised fair use in World News stories; in a piece about special effects in the movies, it's okay to use short clips -- but not play all six Star Wars films in their entirety instead of writing my own script.

Where, precisely, is the line, though?  As Mr. Sutel reports above (or at this LINK), they're trying to work that out.

Stewart Brand famously said, "information wants to be free."  Yes, but if you see his full context you'll see that he laid out a conflict: "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time."

Which side is right?  As a mainstream reporter who writes a blog, I have no idea, and invite yours.

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