Debate Over Copyright Remains Unresolved

Author’s note: this article was written in mid-November 2008. Readers may wish to check other news sites for updates. 

After five months, a battle between the Associated Press and bloggers over copyright issues remains in legal limbo.

The Associated Press (AP) ignited a firestorm of controversy last June, when the news organization proposed to charge bloggers for any use of articles over 5 words.

While the initial furor across the blogosphere has died down, an official fee chart remains posted on icopyright.net, a group that helps publishers protect their work against copyright violations. The AP licenses its materiel through the organization.

“There are no written guidelines,” said Jack Stokes, manager of Media Relations at the AP. “If you are looking to use content from the AP you would go through icopyright.”

Stokes declined to say if the AP planned to release guidelines in the future.

“If you are doing anything on intellectual property you should know that there are no yes or no answers,” said Stokes, when asked what the AP’s standards were for bloggers.

It remains unclear if the AP plans to pursue any further legal action against bloggers who post excerpts without payment. For now, however, there does not appear to be any current legal action. Stokes refused to say if the AP was involved in any legal disputes over copyright issues on the web. He did, however, confirm that if there were any such disputes, they would be listed on the website.

A careful review of the website did not turn up any current legal action.

The New York Times reported on June 16 that the AP planned to release guidelines for use of its materiel. However, nearly five months later, the AP has not posted any such guidelines.

Standard fees for licensing of AP articles, as listed on icopyright.net, start at $12.50 for 5-25 words, and $7.50 for educational purposes and nonprofit groups. The terms of the license also expressly prohibit the purchaser from using the article in any way that could damage the AP’s reputation.

The debate began back in June, when AP attorneys sent a letter to Rogers Cadenhead, owner of The Drudge Retort, with a request that he take down  six posts and a comment that contained excerpts from AP articles. The quotations ranged from 39 to 79 words.

The posts were not written by Cadenhead, but by a few of the approximately 8,500 members of the site. The site allows users to post blog entries, share web links, and comment on posts.

AP lawyers alleged that the six posts and comment violated provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

Many bloggers were outraged by the AP’s stance and said that fair-use law permitted use of attributed AP materiel.

After a ten-day standoff, Cadenhead and the AP came to a terse agreement, in which Cadenhead removed down the questionable posts and the AP dropped legal action.

“I’m glad that my personal legal dispute with the AP is resolved…but it does nothing to resolve the larger conflict between how AP interprets fair use and how thousands of people are sharing news on the web,” Cadenhead said in an interview with the Washington Post. 

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