June 16th, 2008
The Associated Press is facing a blog firestorm after issuing take down notices to Drudge Retort for linking to and reproducing snippets of AP stories. AP is now attempting to define how their stories can be linked to and excerpted — and the response from the blogosphere appears to be to boycott the AP, i.e. not link at all. This is a huge opportunity for local and national news sites to be the sources that bloggers and social news sites link to instead of the AP.
Take the story of flooding in Iowa, for example. The AP is covering this story extensively, as you can see in this Google News search result. But local news media in Iowa is also covering the story extensively, as you can see in this search limited to Iowa sources — the story is happening in their own backyard, giving these local sources a unique perspective and knowledge.
So if a blogger wanted to discuss the Iowa floods and needed a source to cite, they can easily find an original local source instead of the AP story. And they can think of the link and the traffic they send as a contribution to the local news outlet’s original reporting, particularly the local newspapers struggling with new economic realities.
Or let’s take a national example. Britain and the EU have announced new sanctions against Iran. The AP covered this story, but so did national news sites like the Washington Post. Link to the Post instead, to support their original reporting.
To seize this opportunity, national and local news sites could get the word out to bloggers that they want the links and the traffic, if AP doesn’t. It’s up to them whether they agree with AP’s attempt to copyright the commodity of the news event itself (via Saul Hansell):
“The principal question is whether the excerpt is a substitute for the story, or some established adaptation of the story,” said Timothy Wu, a professor at the Columbia Law School. Mr. Wu said that the case is not clear-cut, but he believes that The A.P. is likely to lose a court case to assert a claim on that issue.
“It’s hard to see how the Drudge Retort ‘first few lines’ is a substitute for the story,” Mr. Wu said.
Mr. Kennedy argued, however, that The Associated Press believes that in some cases, the essence of an article can be encapsulated in very few words.
The problem with this argument is that, if the “essence of the article” is the fact of the event itself, e.g. floods in IA, and that is the entire value of the content, then the content is sorely lacking in value. If local and national news sites can create more value than just the commodity statement of the facts, which be “given away” in a snippet, then they can earn all of the links and traffic on the web for their original reporting. They should also look at how they allocate resources to creating original content that people want to and can link to vs. licensing content that nobody wants to or can link to (especially when that same licensed content appears on Google, Yahoo, and hundreds of other sites).
If local and national news sites really want to seize the opportunity, they won’t just leave it to bloggers to link to their original reporting — they will start linking to each other’s original reporting, and help each other capture that economic value, which they so clearly need.