Friday, July 24, 2009

AP Fires First Salvo in Losing Battle

The Associated Press is taking the novel position that even minimal references to its articles require a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced the piece. By way of example, the AP noted that the use of a headline and a link would violate a news organization's copyright. This, of course, is what one sees regularly on Google News and other sites, including blogs. For example:

Gates Faults U.S. on Data Privacy and Immigration

From a business perspective, it's strange to see anyone take a position that discourages linking. Linking is the lifeblood of the web, and it's how people find your content, both directly and via the "authoritative" benefit a site gets from most links. And from a legal perspective, there's no question whatsoever that any content owner who tries to enforce copyright to prevent standard linking will lose.

What of the headlines themselves? Sure, a headline is "expression" for copyright purposes, but it's hard to see how a news source can escape a fair use argument, given that a headline is a small portion of the overall piece of journalism and doesn't create an economic substitute for someone referring to the original piece. In fact, the opposite is true. Headlines are written to attract reader interest in the article; linked headlines drive traffic from a search engine, blog, etc. back to the original source to read the full piece.

It should also be noted that news outlets have, since time immemorial, referred to each other. News organizations on the one hand create content, and on the other hand avidly rely on content created by others. How often when reading media do you see a reference like "The New York Times reported today that . . . " or "according a CNN report . . ."?

The AP, like a lot of other traditional media outlets, is flailing about as its legacy business model slowly loses air. However, it's easy to see how this particular battle will end – an overreaching lawsuit or two that leaves egg on AP's face without vindicating its position. It may also see Google show some news outlets what a world without links to their content would look like – I suspect they would quickly find that is far worse than the way things stand today.

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