Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

How Different Are Your Blog's Copyright Interests from the Associated Press?

By Dennis D. McDonald

Given my longstanding interest in copyright, I’ve been following the AP anti-fair-use story with some interest (e.g., see this by Jason Kintzler, or this by Julian Baldwin; there’s also an interesting discussion thread ongoing at the Linkedin Bloggers group on Yahoo! Groups).

While I agree the initial AP stance sounds like an attempt to re-write copyright law by defining away Fair Use, I probably wouldn’t fault AP were it to go after organizations that consistently republish AP content for commercial gain without formal licensing terms.

The anti-AP argument in this current case typically is that AP is protecting a dying business model by biting the hands that feed it, i.e, by threatening blogs that republish its content which are generating links and publicity for AP content.

My feeling is that the AP, if it operates within the law, has the right to pursue any legal business model it wants to, including a business model that appears (to us bloggers, at least) to undervalue the economic and social value of web links and internet traffic.

So be it. The AP shares the quandary that many publishers face — how to monetize traditional specialty editorial content (in AP’s case, news stories) in the face of so many competing online sources. I don’t envy them.

Still, I  have to admit some sympathy for the AP position when I think about how easy it is for a web publisher to republish someone else’s content.

Full text Atom and RSS XML feeds are a case in point. My blog is pretty typical. The publishing system I use (Squarespace) automatically generates a number of feeds. I have chosen to make the feeds full-text (as opposed to summaries) based on my desire to make it as easy as possible for people to access my content. I also regularly embed numerous links to other items from my blog so that a link-back possibility exists even if the reader is satisfied with reading the full text feed somewhere else.

I have given some online aggregators explicit permission to selectively republish items from my Managing Technology feed  (e.g., Social Media Today). I have also added my Managing Technology feed as a “note” to my Facebook page. I don’t make any money off such republishing since my goal with my blog is to advertise myself, my interests, and my services. The more the merrier, I say.

However, I admit some chagrin at the patently commercial and unauthorized re-use of my feed. By “commercial” I am referring to the use of my full text feed to help generate ad revenue that is not shared with me. Examples are feed aggregators that appear to be no more than Google ad sales sites. To add insult to injury, some of these sites even sell advertising links that add links to the internal text of the article and make it appear that I included those ads in the original source. One such site also makes it impossible to remove a feed once it is added. Should I be happy at the traffic such sites generate to my own web site and let it go at that? Or should I demand that my feed be removed?

In another case, a commercial web site that specializes in training and HR concerns occasionally picks up relevant articles from my blog and republishes them in a section “sponsored” by one of the web sites commercial sponsors. None of my content is changed, and the inclusion of my posts is relevant to the topics and categories covered by the web site, but it’s not immediately apparent that a non-subscriber to this web site can get access to my content without going through the membership sign up process. Again, should I just be satisfied with the exposure this gives, even though I’m not sharing in any of the direct advertising or membership revenue generated by this site?

Which gets me back to the AP situation. In some ways the public web is still like “the wild west;” everybody’s trying to make a buck. Usually those of us who choose to make a buck one way are able to get along with those who have chosen a different path. Currently the Associated Press is working through how it can “get along” with the modern world. I wish them well.

Still, I have no sympathy for people who take the full text of AP stories and republish them without seeking permission, just as I have no sympathy with those who commercially republish the full text of my own blog posts without seeking my permission. It’s not just that the principle of Fair Use doesn’t seem to extend to such wholesale republishing. It’s also my belief that, in web based as well as traditional publishing, the rights of the author should be respected, and this extends to asking permission to re-use the author’s content for commercial purposes.

  • Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald 

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