AP’s idea of ‘fair use’ limits you to four words or less

Anyone who has taken a high school English class has learned a bit about attribution and fair use when quoting someone else’s work. If you include a direct quote from another work, you cite that work as your source. The number of words you can quote is governed by the fair use doctrine, which is generally construed to protect a modest quotation that is too short or insignificant to affect the market value of the source.

Earlier this month, the Associated Press (AP), a worldwide news organization, filed seven DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown requests against the Drudge Retort blog (a parody of the better known Drudge Report) for allowing people to post material from or links to AP in violation of AP’s copyright and/or the fair use doctrine.

The Drudge Retort is run by Rogers Cadenhead, upon whose head the full wrath of the AP landed. Hardly a fair fight. Scary, in fact. An organization as large as the Associated Press tries to protect its increasingly outdated business model by bullying a small, independent blogger. Even journalists who retired ten years ago know that publishing profits lie primarily in the advertising, which increases in value as readership increases, and in this blogging age, readership is driven by links. In other words, we the readers drive other readers to AP material, thereby increasing its readership and value.

Skipping past the legal technicalities of copyright and fair use, the gist of this story is that AP and Cadenhead have gotten together and worked out their differences. AP admitted it might have been a bit “heavy handed.” However, it is still clinging to its own definition of fair use, and its posted fee schedule* indicates that fair use of their material is limited to a mere four (4) words. After that, the fees kick in. Violators are guilty of “piracy,” according to the fine print at the bottom of the page. RIAA, anyone?

Still unresolved is AP’s position that a news story’s headline and lede (usually the first sentence or paragraph) have absolute copyright protection. In a traditional news story, the lede includes the 5 Ws and the H — Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. That’s all you really need to know about any event. Everything that follows just fleshes out the story. Heads are, or used to be, an art in themselves, written by someone other than the reporter, someone particularly skilled in writing succinct, attention-getting one-liners that fit within the space allotted. Arguably, anyone who quotes the head and/or lede of a news story has stolen its commercial value.

(There are no direct quotes or live links to AP in this post, but if this blog suddenly disappears, check with AP, just in case.)


*current rates per word for licensing and republishing an excerpt from an AP story are listed as:
Words ______Fees
5-25 _______$ 12.50
26-50 ______$ 17.50
51-100 _____$ 25.00
101-250 ____$ 50.00
251 and up __$100.00

as shown here:


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5 thoughts on “AP’s idea of ‘fair use’ limits you to four words or less

  1. You have to look at it from the other side, too. How can AP fight the tiny little thefts of 1000000000000 small independent bloggers?

    I can’t see why a blogger should use AP’s words at all. If I want an AP story for my blog, I’ll have to rewrite all of it in my own terms. Why not?

    But I realize that the very idea of money for creative work is at issue. I have been told that even the greatest opera singers can’t sell their records anymore. Painters and cartoonists won’t get paid even by the big newspapers anymore, because the publishers can get pictures for free from people who wish to be published. And agents get buried under tons of manuscripts looking for publishers.

    I could imagine a world without those publishers, but not without organizations of the AP kind.
    I can imagine linking to an AP story to provide additional information on a subject I’m writing about, or including a short quote from AP, with attribution, to make a point. It would be secondary to my own writing, of course, included as a confirmation of what I’m saying. I would not have thought about whether to quote a headline or lede if I hadn’t read about this controversy.

    AP could try to go after all those thousands of tiny bloggers, much as RIAA went after Napster users for pirating music. But it’s expensive, time-consuming, and except where examples are made of a few individuals, not particularly worthwhile as a deterrant to others. Both AP and RIAA need to accept that the technology is changing and the best thing they can do is get busy and find their new niches in this new century. Otherwise they may find themselves going the way of the dinosaurs.

  2. I can’t believe this. What do they want, for bloggers and other sites to stop linking to them altogether? Because it seems that’s where it will lead. I think it’s a bad move on their part.
    Pretty incredible, isn’t it? I can see arguments on both sides of the issue, and I’m not really sure where a fair middle ground would be. AP can’t rewrite the copyright laws to suit their own purposes, nor should they be allowed to intimidate bloggers who legitimately quote small bits of text while giving AP full credit and a link. On the other hand, AP is certainly entitled to some kind of copyright protection. It’s going to be interesting to see how this works out.

... and that's my two cents