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Welcome to the Web refactory, AP

The Associated Press wants to create guidelines for excerpting from its news articles. But fundamentally the Net is a place where new material is factored out of antecedent matter and connected in an information "web" via links and snippets.

2 min read

The Associated Press has brought to the foreground the issue of "fair use" related to taking snippets from articles, according to an article in The New York Times.

Jim Kennedy, a seasoned journalist who is an AP vice president and director of strategic planning, is making the case that some blogs and content outlets are excerpting the "essence of an article," which he said should instead be encapsulated in very few words. The AP plans to come up with guidelines for excerpting from its news stories.

Jim Kennedy AP

In The New York Times story, Professor Timothy Wu of the Columbia University Law School says, "The principal question is whether the excerpt is a substitute for the story, or some established adaptation of the story."

There is a fuzzy line regarding "fair use" and how much excerpted content is fair. But most bloggers use common sense and extract snippets and provide links to make a point, not to create substitute for the story. I do find CNET News.com stories fully reproduced on sites, but they are the exception and clearly a violation of copyright.

Kennedy said that the spirit of the Internet is linking. But it is also excerpting snippets. Fundamentally, the Web is a content "refactory," in which new material is factored out of antecedent matter and connected in an information "web" via links and snippets.

The AP or any other source of so-called original content that is built partly on preexisting content easily accessible on the Internet can either participate in the Web refactory and live with the fuzziness, or become a pariah.

Here is an except and a link to what Jeff Jarvis, director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York's new Graduate School of Journalism, had to say about this issue:

Bloggers should not quote excessively from others' content and when they quote it should be for a reason--to agree, disagree, comment on, recommend, correct (there can be many reasons). This is fair use and fair comment. There can be no word-count limit because it depends on the use. If I want to fisk a story, I may well quote the whole thing because I am commenting on it all. The test is reasonableness: a fuzzy test, but life is fuzzy.

The AP, for its part, should recognize that they and their members now live in a new media ecology constructed of links, one they do not and cannot control any longer. To be good citizens in this new economy, the AP should respect the rights of readers who write and recognize the benefits of receiving links and credit, as the bloggers give it. They should further extend this ethic to their own work. And if there is conflict or questions, their reflex should not be to send their lawyers to write letters. Remember that you are dealing with individuals, not corporations. This was a hostile act and that is why it was met in return with hostility, deservedly so.