AP vs. Bloggers

As freelance word rates go, $2.50 per word isn’t bad. It’s what you might expect from some of the higher end magazines in the US. However, it might not be what you expect the Associated Press (AP) to charge bloggers for quoting AP material.

In June the newswire filed a lawsuit against Rogers Cadenhead, publisher of the blog/community site Drudge Retort. AP cited seven blog posts that referenced AP articles. Some quotes contained 39 words or less. AP then published a pricing list; "5-25 words = $12.50" staggered up to "251 words and up = $100.00". The news agency said it would challenge blog posts where they feel "use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste.” AP simultaneously launched a website to allow ease of payment.

In the online world the major currency is the hyperlink. It has the power to drive huge amounts of traffic towards a particular news source. The news from AP was greeted with disdain from bloggers. Adrian Monck, media blogger and Professor of Journalism at City University, thought the move is madness, "Charging $12.50 for the privilege of repeating five (yes, 5) words is sheer madness – you only have to imagine quoting a story about ‘UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’ and the meter is running! Then there’s the hyphen. One word or two? …Real journalism does cost money, and is worth supporting, but this really, really, really, really, really (that’s $12.50 please) is not the way to do it."

Among the most vocal off all was Jeff Jarvis, who blogs at Buzzmachine.com and writes a column for Media Guardian. In his post entitled FU AP Jarvis outlined his grievances, "We should be operating under an ethic of the link to original reporting; this is an ethic that the AP systematically violates… So, bloggers, unless the AP recants and apologizes to Cadenhead, I urge you to avoid linking to the AP and to link to reporting at its source."

Others, like Dave Winer who blogs at Scripting News, were more sympathetic to AP, "All that had happened was a threatening letter was written… I’m willing to cut them a lot of slack, because whether you like it or not, the relationship between bloggers and the AP continues."

AP quickly caved in to pressure and agreed to talk to bloggers to iron out a solution. AP vice-president Jim Kennedy told the New York Times, “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.”

At the heart of the problem is a clash of old and new cultures. On the one hand there are those, of the AP mindset, who believe content should be paid for whenever and however it is replicated. And those, from the blogosphere – many of whom license their work under a generic Creative Commons license allowing free use with attribution – who believe the free-flow of information is more important.

Using digital fingerprinting systems such as Vobile and Attributor, it is easier than ever before for large organisations to automatically track where content is replicated across the net. Those who advocate free and fair use of information are concerned that large organisations like the global media company Viacom, which already has a $1 billion lawsuit against the video-sharing site YouTube, are reportedly testing services like Vobile.

While the AP and Rogers Cadenhead have now come to an agreement and the lawsuit has been withdrawn the way forward is far from clear. AP intends to publish a set of guidelines for what it considers to be fair use of its material. The news agency says it does not want to discourage bloggers from quoting AP material and that it has no intention of creating its own legal definition of fair use.

And just for the record, using the AP content calculator rules, we would have had to shell out from between $12.50 and $25 to each of the bloggers and news sources quoted above. I suspect the bloggers at least will be happy with the link love alone.

From the Frontline blogs:

David Axe is in Abeche, in eastern Chad reporting on the Darfur crisis when he found himself in a spot of trouble, "Every time I tried to edge away, the soldiers corralled me, accusing, threatening. It was very very dark out. Things were only getting worse. I took back my Nokia on the pretense of showing them some of its many wonderful features. When a car drove past, the deserters hustled into the shadows. I sprinted in the opposite direction, my cameras shoved in my pants. I ran. I navigated alleyways randomly until I hit a dead end. When I turned, Ahmed was running behind me with my knife in his hand.

Meanwhile, Daniel Bennett a PhD student researching the impact of blogging and new media on the BBC’s coverage of war and terrorism argues the MoD should allow more British soldiers to blog from Afghanistan, "Though a long way from the unmediated democratised blogging ideal, we could do worse than have a few more soldiers like Lachlan MacNeil – a blogging soldier with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – occasionally being allowed to tell us what life on the frontline is like in Helmand. After all, the story of Afghanistan is an important story – one which has already cost the lives of a hundred of MacNeil’s colleagues.

Read more from these and more bloggers at www.fromthefrontline.co.uk