Monday, June 16, 2008


At the start of the weekend, the Associated Press sent seven takedown notices to the Drudge Retort, a progressive spin on Drudge's link journalism format (as one can guess from the name, it started as a direct response, but has since turned into more of a straight user-submitted link site). The notices covered seven perceived copyright violations. So what were the infractions?

None of the six entries challenged by AP, which include two that I posted myself, contains the full text of an AP story or anything close to it. They reproduce short excerpts of the articles -- ranging in length from 33 to 79 words -- and five of the six have a user-created headline.

As one might expect, blogs have been exploding about this all weekend.

The oddest thing to me is that there are much more egregious examples of copyright violation than those on the Drudge Retort, which links back to the original story after a short headline or couple dozen word excerpt. Why this one? And why now?

Well given the events over the weekend, the AP has begun to retreat from their position, promising to review their policies towards blogs.

“We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this,” Mr. Kennedy said.

That said, the takedowns were not taken back--the request still stands.

If the AP gets serious and continues to pursue this tactic, it's going to find itself in a similar situation as the record industry does now--making criminals out of the very people who care most about their product. That's not a good way to go. It may save things in the short term, but it's a death sentence in the long run.

The pushback has already begun, with prominent tech journalism site TechCrunch promoting a boycott:

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.

The thing that traditional journalism still doesn't get is that they're no longer the only game in town. A site like TechCrunch only helps the AP, pointing back to stories they wrote and sending eyeballs their way. But a site like TechCrunch doesn't need the AP. There's no longer a news vacuum that can only be filled by wire services--the news can be told without them.

Which isn't to say that the AP doesn't offer critical services--with newspapers shrinking everywhere, the AP stands as one of the few services capable of continuing to run foreign bureaus; with a renewed focus on local news at many newspapers (for better or for worse), the AP is one of the last remaining eyes able to investigate at a national level. These and many other things are important. Of course, the AP's main reason for existing--to be a way for newspapers to share stories--is obviously built on a now-unworkable model. And that's, ultimately, what this whole dustup is about: The AP needs to realize that it's living in a new world, a word where it's still needed, but in a very different way that it's accustomed.

And pissing off the very people that are changing the way news is consumed is probably the worst move they could make right now.