Tuesday, June 17, 2008
On this day:

On the AP blog ban

The AP is annoyed with some bloggers about their having quoted from its stories in a manner that it deems to be unfair. For the record, I plan to continue quoting from any and all news sources, including the AP, whenever they run stories that interest me or that may interest my five other regular readers. That means that I won't be participating in the "Boycott the AP" campaign that seems to be building steam among the Blogging-American community.

I think I understand the "fair use" doctrine pretty well, and I've always done my best to adhere to it. Fair use encompasses pretty much all of what you learned in English 101 about writing research papers and essays and such, only turned up a notch here and there. You don't use direct quotes from anyone without proper attribution. You limit the scope of your quotations to that which is necessary to get your point across. You don't quote entire articles without adding commentary that justifies having quoted the entire article. ("Fisking," for example, is probably acceptable.) You don't even paraphrase without giving credit to the author or copyright owner if what you are paraphrasing is new and unique. So for starters, that means don't plagiarize, and plagiarize even less when you're dealing with copyrighted material.

In addition, keep in mind that when you're using copyrighted material that is either produced for profit or that you intend to use to make a profit, the standard is a little more strict. According to the Copyright Act of 1976:

In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include --

  • 1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • 2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  • 3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • 4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
When in doubt, consult the Golden Rule. Then give a little more courtesy than the Golden Rule requires to the person or organization who either produced or owns the material you're using. Hopefully, that'll be enough to keep you (and me) out of trouble. If anyone has something to add or subtract from any of that, feel free to do so in the comment section. There's really no hard and fast rule to follow here, and that's the problem.

One of the most interesting aspects of the information age is the emerging symbiotic relationship between major news organizations and individual bloggers. Bloggers depend upon paid journalists to provide the news that they comment on daily. Likewise, journalists and their employers are becoming increasingly dependent on bloggers to direct readers to their sites and to their advertisers.

This has added a whole new dimension to the already fuzzy concept of fair use, and one which has not been fully tested in the courts. Cooperative news organizations like the AP have largely been left out in the cold by all of this: hence the AP's new assertiveness over its copyrighted material. I don't know enough about the AP's latest grievances against bloggers to judge one way or the other who's in the right, but if you just respect the property of others and give credit where credit is due, you should be OK.