Monday, June 23, 2008

Bloggers under attack from AP

Bloggers are under fire by some news organisations over the use of material gleaned from their websites. Recently the news organisation AP sent a legal notice to Drudge Retort over the use of its stories on the site. On his personal blog, Cadenhead said the issue had been resolved, but the issue has concerned many in the blogosphere over what constitutes fair use [Washington Post]. Tonight the issue was raised on BBC radio four’s flagship programme PM.
The discussion, which has angered many, prompted AP to issue a statement to the BBC. “In response to questions about the use of Associated Press content on the Drudge Retort web site, the AP was able to provide additional information to the operator of the site, Rogers Cadenhead, on Thursday. That information was aimed at enabling Mr Cadenhead to bring the contributed content on his site into conformance with the policy he earlier set for his contributors.
Both parties consider the matter closed. In addition, the AP has had a constructive exchange of views this week with a number of interested parties in the blogging community about the relationship between news providers and bloggers and that dialogue will continue.”

Many have criticized AP for their overzealous attitude to bloggers. The bloggers may often plagiarize journalists, but the relationship between bloggers and journalists is often a symbiotic one, with many reporters turning to the blogs for stories themselves. Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post website says the move by AP is a big mistake. She says the blogosphere is an aggregator of traditional news sources and calls the AP decision "a misreading of the way the blogosphere works". Jeff Jarvis of the Guardian also stood in defence of the bloggers and talked of the democratisation of the internet and the dissemination of truth. But Mark Stephens, a media lawyer, said the use of material published by media organisations, even by way of links amounted to the stealing of stories.
But there is an issue of honesty too. One comment left on the BBC website by Tim Grant of Aston University writes about two central issues, one of honesty and the other of ownership. “Writers in the blogosphere, where there are a very large number of writers writing material of relatively little value, tend to place an emphasis on the former. One of the interests of reading blogs is the cross-referencing to sources and other writers with hat-tips etc? They tend however to take little notice of the financial issues associated with writing”. But he says, “For traditional journalism the finances become more important as news acquisition is costly, yet there is relatively little information in news reports as to where information came from ? the ?churnalism? of reproducing press releases as news reports is just one example?” This is very clear when one compares the output of many US websites reporting on foreign stories. There is often little reporting from the ground and many rely on a press agency report released by AP, Reuters or Xinhua. Television reports in contrast give a far different and varied account of the situation in many parts of the world. Aspects of a story that may be reported by Sky News may not be reported by the BBC, and vice versa.
Some bloggers have cynically called for a boycott of AP stories. But the issue is far more serious; 1) The original AP requests are disturbing for anyone who blogs. It should also be a concern for educators who frequently use excerpts from online resources. Sure, there's a different Fair Use line for educators and journalists, but its important to both groups. 2) The AP has been doing this with others before (like Digg) so this exposure is important. 3) The quick retreat by the AP can be seen as a kind of victory for bloggers, and 4) if the AP creates clear guidelines that might be useful. Might. Who said the AP gets to make the rules? 5) Quoting passages from online sources and linking to the original source is key to most blogs. Some blogs are entirely made up of selected items pulled from other sources. If this comes into serious legal question, it changes the fundamentals of blogging [Serendipity]. But some still feel that AP made the right decision [] even if it has initiated a fight from the bloggers themselves [].

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