If AP asks for help, answer the call

aplogo At a time when news is fast becoming a commodity – you don’t care so much where the news comes from as it’s the news itself you’re interested in – the behaviour of the Associated Press news agency looks distinctly dinosaurish.

In a nutshell, the AP is trying to stop a blogger posting even small snippets of content from AP news items, something that happens day in and day out across the web under fair use and fair dealing practices.

Last week, they went to the extent of serving take-down notices to a US blogger who had the audacity to actually link to the AP stories.

I often do that here on this blog: copy and paste a paragraph or so from another source – whether it’s a mainstream media site or a blogger – to highlight or illustrate a point in a post, always with a link to the source from which I’ve taken the snip.

What the AP’s doing has stirred up quite a kerfuffle with strong opinions from influential bloggers like Jeff Jarvis (terrific post title: FU AP) and Michael Arrington (Here’s Our New Policy On A.P. stories: They’re Banned).

I can understand the AP’s concerns as expressed in this comment by Jim Kennedy, VP and Director of Strategy for AP, left on Techdirt’s post:

[...] The Associated Press encourages the engagement of bloggers — large and small — in the news conversation of the day. Some of the largest blogs are licensed to display AP stories in full on a regular basis. We genuinely value and encourage referring links to our coverage, and even offer RSS feeds from www.ap.org, as do many of our licensed customers.

We get concerned, however, when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste. That’s not good for original content creators; nor is it consistent with the link-based culture of the Internet that bloggers have cultivated so well.

Yet the AP has gone about pressing its case in a way guaranteed to win them no favour at all in the blogosphere and, I suspect, in some quarters in the mainstream media.

Instead of serving take-down notices, why not reach out to the blogger first and engage in a discussion? Even a cursory look at the blog in question would clearly indicate to the AP that this is not a spammer or someone who steals content.

The good news is that the AP realizes that its heavy-handed approach hasn’t been an effective one, according to the New York Times:

[...] On Saturday, The A.P. retreated. Jim Kennedy, vice president and strategy director of The A.P., said in an interview that the news organization had decided that its letter to the Drudge Retort was “heavy-handed” and that The A.P. was going to rethink its policies toward bloggers.

The quick about-face came, he said, because a number of well-known bloggers started criticizing its policy, claiming it would undercut the active discussion of the news that rages on sites, big and small, across the Internet.

In my view, the fact that the AP recognizes it needs to develop some clear policies in how it wants to enable bloggers and others to make fair use of new stories is worth applauding.

If their approach includes actually working with bloggers to develop those policies, then that would be worth a standing ovation.

[Update June 17] Oh dear, the Associated Press doesn’t seem to be handling this at all well. A follow up: AP snippets and a big red flag.