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Copyrights, Tricycles and the AP


Internet suddenly at loss for words.

There are days when the Associated Press makes the Post Office look entrepreneurial.

But the AP's use of new software to track the use of its stories underscores its smarts in the digital age - not bad for a not-for-profit cooperative founded in 1846 and owned by about 1,500 member newspapers.

Earlier this month, the AP caused the sky to fall when it demanded that a website devoted to politics remove a news story on copyright grounds. Lefty blogger Markos Moulitas of Daily Kos fame went nuts. Another blogger huffed, "AP, I don't give a damn about your guidelines. I have my own."

But the issue shouldn't be hard to figure out: The AP must protect its franchise, and bloggers can't use entire news stories without paying for them.

This gets into the issue of "fair use." As the world's largest wire service and therefore the Voice of God, everyone bounces opinions off the AP's news. The question: how much of a story can bloggers quote without violating the AP's copyright?

Anyone with half an ounce of smarts and a little experience writing news should be able to pull and summarize the key elements from an AP story. Failing that, bloggers could cover their bovine butts by attributing the story to the Associated Press. Who knows, some readers might even want to know where the blog's information came from.

Better yet, it shouldn't be hard for bloggers to link to an AP article published by a paying customer. Yahoo! (YHOO), for example, often carries the AP's news, business and sports stories. It's hard to imagine that Yahoo, or an aggregator like Breibart, would gripe about links that drive traffic to its site.

Bloggers fear Big Brother is watching, and worse, that the Bloated Nosey One is in league with Mammon and wants buckets of money. Well, kids: Do you think the AP's worldwide staff is paid by the National Endowment for the Arts - or perhaps they work for free?

Think of the AP's predicament as a variation on a theme: Someone has to pay for the electricity, hosting, routers, software, semiconductors and fiber optic lines that bring the Internet to life. Who might that be? (Here's a hint: Think about all those scummy, rapacious and mean-spirited capitalist ads on websites everywhere.)

In any case, the AP doesn't seek to wring an extra dime or two out of bloggers for quoting short portions of an AP story. The wire service backed away from its initial objections to bloggers using quotes ranging from 33 to 79 words. It has already reached an agreement with the Drudge Retort (a takeoff on the Drudge Report), and is working on guidelines for permissible use of its content by bloggers.

And the sun rose in the east today.

Here's how things work in the real world, bloggers: If the AP can't cover expenses, it will be forced to reduce operations. (The AP's revenues come entirely from subscription fees - it carries no advertising.) This truism is underscored by the endless cutbacks at major newspaper companies, including McClatchy (MNI), Gannett (GCI) and the Washington Post (WPQ).

Here's betting that smart marketing folks at the AP and other news agencies using the tracking software (developed by Attributor of Redwood City), such as Thomson Reuters (TRI), will use the software to find new clients. The AP has different levels of service pegged for major operations like the New York Times (NYT) and micro-publications like the venerable student newspaper at Cowflop University.

This just in, gentle bloggers: There's no need for you to take the AP's sports wire, the Mississippi state newswire or even the stock market report. It's not hard to imagine a click-to-choose menu where bloggers would pay for only complete stories published on their websites - assuming they needed more than would be covered by "fair use."

Blogs are wonderful, allowing readers to graze from Little Green Footballs to Kaus Files to No Quarter to Democratic Underground to Buzz Machine to Captain's Quarters to Free Republic to Daily Kos to… You name it.

Opinion is sliced every which way on the Internet - and it's generally presented in a more engaging style than on newspaper editorial pages, which tend to wheeze like a geezer with emphysema.

Here's hoping no bloggers were injured in their recent tumble from their tricycles. It's time to grow up, kids - opinion is free, but living in the real world isn't, despite what your graduate fellowship may have taught you.

For more on the life and times of bloggers, check out Job Descriptions: The Gossip Blogger.
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