I spent the first ten years of my professional life as a journalist and the last ten as an online media professional. So when I read about how The Associated Press plans to seek compensation from Web sites they feel are unfairly using their content for free, I felt the tug of split loyalties.
In my role as the manager of online community sites, I have to deal with the problem of people copying entire news articles into message boards. On Delphi Forums, we discourage it. But we encourage people to post a line or two from the story, link to the full story, and discuss that story in our forums. The way I read the coverage of the A.P. announcement, that kind of activity wouldn’t be threatened.
But consider Google News.
As I write this, the Google News home page has excerpts from 27 news stories from across the Web. Some of those excerpts go on for 40 words or more. You could argue (as I would) that any one of those excerpts falls under the category of “fair use.” But taken together, they provide Google with free content for an online news digest. I’m sure lots of people scan that news periodically to find out what’s going on and never click through to the original sources.
Granted, the Google News home page doesn’t carry advertising, so Google probably isn’t making any money from it. But what if it did?
The A.P. and other news organizations spend millions of dollars sending reporters around the globe to cover the news. They have a right to be compensated for doing so. That’s why I cringe when I see comments like the TechCrunch piece comparing the A.P. to the RIAA and Jeff Jarvis’s desire to “Kill the AP.”
The A.P. announcement was short on details, so perhaps my thoughts on this issue are premature. But for now, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Added on April 9:
On the other hand, maybe I was too eager to jump to the A.P.’s defense.
It’s hardly free content for Google. They reached an agreement with AP last year (after AP sued them) to pay licensing fees, and to serve all AP stories from a dedicated page, rather than from member papers/sites. I imagine they have similar agreements with at least some of the other news conglomerates.
And wasn’t there a related flap in the last few months over AP’s indication that you couldn’t quote more than 4 words from one of their stories without paying licensing fees to them?