The blogosphere is abuzz over The Associated Press' plans to sue those who use its content without permission.
AP is a global not-for-profit news cooperative owned by thousands of member newspapers. Newspapers established the cooperative so they could cover remote areas and provide news coverage that they could not afford to support individually.
It allows members who pay subscription fees to reprint stories from the farthest corners of the globe. AP creates and distributes stories to members. In turn, members allow AP to pick up stories and distribute them to other members.
Web sites and bloggers who use AP content without paying threaten the organization's revenue-generating system.
To deal with some of the new challenges the Internet has created for the venerated news organization, AP announced last year that it would monitor use of its content with the help of Attributor's technology. The news organization said the agreement with Attributor was part of a larger strategic initiative to safeguard intellectual property rights, while also enabling new licensing and distribution models.
Attributor launched last year, with company representatives saying they would identify and "fingerprint" chunks of content from more than 10 billion pages on the Internet. The company provides a service to media outlets and other content creators to track how their content is reused online and whether the user has authorization to reproduce the material.
"Our agreement with Attributor will enable AP to safeguard its investment in creating and distributing news reports, while assuring licensees that unauthorized use will not diminish the value of their licenses," AP general counsel Srinandan Kasi explained in the announcement. "These services are part of the next-generation licensing and enforcement services we plan to provide to our global network of members and subscribers."
The announcement generated virtually no discussion online until last week when AP made good on its promise by sending a letter requesting that Drudge Retort, a left-wing parody of the well-known Drudge Report, remove several posts containing excerpts of AP material.
Bloggers responded quickly, with many claiming that the news organization was attempting to prohibit uses allowed under the "fair use" doctrine. Fair use generally allows people to cite copyrighted material in order to discuss it in book reviews, opinion pieces, and critiques.
The reaction seemed to encourage AP to soften its stance. Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Jim Kennedy, AP's VP and strategy director, said AP would "have to figure out a more positive way to do this."
Blogger Michael Arrington indicated on TechCrunch that Kennedy's statement is too little, too late.
"Drudge Retort is doing nothing different than what Digg, TechMeme, Mixx and dozens of other sites do, and frankly the fact that they are being linked to should be considered a favor," he explained. "The A.P. doesn't get to make its own rules around how its content is used, if those rules are stricter than the law allows. So even though they say they are making these new guidelines in the spirit of cooperation, it's clear that, like the RIAA and MPAA, they are trying to claw their way to a set of property rights that don't exist today and that they are not legally entitled to."
Arrington went on to call paid content a "dying business model."
"So here's our new policy on A.P. stories: they don't exist," he wrote. "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."