The Associated Press, following criticism from bloggers over an AP assertion of copyright, plans to meet this week with a bloggers' group to help form guidelines under which AP news stories could be quoted online.
Jim Kennedy, the AP's director of strategic planning, said Monday that he planned to meet Thursday with Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association, as part of an effort to create standards for online use of AP stories by bloggers that would protect AP content without discouraging bloggers from legitimately quoting from it.
The meeting comes after AP sent a legal notice last week to Rogers Cadenhead, the author of a blog called the Drudge Retort, a news community site whose name is a parody of the prominent blog the Drudge Report.
The notice called for the blog to remove several postings that AP believed was an improper use of its stories. Other bloggers subsequently lambasted AP for going after a small blogger whom they thought appeared to be engaging in a legally permissible and widely practiced activity protected under "fair use" provisions of copyright law.
In response, the AP indicated it would seek to create guidelines, though even that idea triggered further protests. Michael Arrington wrote on his TechCrunch blog Monday that AP "doesn't get to make its own rules about how its content is used, if those rules are stricter than the law allows."
Wendy Seltzer, a legal scholar and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, said it was encouraging that AP wanted to find an arrangement with bloggers to facilitate a mutually agreeable way for them to use AP content.
But she cautioned that the news organization, a not-for-profit cooperative owned by its member newspapers and broadcasters, should not try to go beyond what's legally permissible.
"If they take those guidelines and start using them to refine the way they make complaints, and if they closely match the law, then it's helpful — it's a restraint on their own legal department," Seltzer said.
"If they were on the other hand to say, you may use 10 words only and any time you use 11 we'll send a takedown notice, that wouldn't be helpful," Seltzer said.
Kennedy said the AP had no intention of making such strict rules or setting any kind of legal standard. He also said AP was reconsidering how and when to send legal notices to bloggers in hopes of giving them "a little more leeway."
Kennedy also said the AP felt Cadenhead had complied with AP's request to take down the offending material and didn't plan any other legal action.
Kennedy said the AP had both a journalistic concern about preventing AP news from being quoted out of context and also a business concern about protecting the value of AP's news from being diluted if its key elements are made available from places that aren't licensed.
"We need to protect our content, no matter who's using it, but we also recognize that the bloggers perform a really important function on the Internet in terms of increasing the engagement of the audience online, and we want to facilitate that," Kennedy said.
Cadenhead, the author of several computer books who also publishes a sports blog, said he was eager to get more clarity about what constitutes permissible use of AP or other news stories online so as not to trigger further legal action.
Short quotations of copyrighted material are allowed under the "fair use" provision of copyright law, but the law can be murky, Cadenhead said. "It's not like a small fish like the Retort is going to be able to hammer through its case in court."
Cadenhead said he was glad the meeting between AP and the blogging group was happening and was "guardedly optimistic at this point about a positive outcome."
Cox, the head of the bloggers' association, said there needed to be a clearer understanding among bloggers about what kinds of use of AP stories would or would not trigger legal complaints.
"Up until now there hasn't' been a concrete articulation of what they expect," Cox said. "I think that would go a long way to pre-empting problems," he said, adding that "I think the desire is there on both sides to get this sorted out."