AP, Bloggers, and Fair Use

The Associated Press has stepped back from its original position on copyright and the blogosphere and will be developing a (hopefully) more nuanced policy. According to an article in the June 16 issue of The New York Times, “The Associated Press … said that it will, for the first time, attempt to define clear standards as to how much of its articles and broadcasts bloggers and Web sites can excerpt without infringing on The A.P.’s copyright.”
The recent controversy arose when AP requested that the Drudge Retort (a left-leaning response to Matt Drudge’s conservative Drudge Report) remove seven portions of its syndicated news stories from its web site. (I should note that the excerpts varied in length from 39 to 79 words; the excerpt I have in the previous paragraph is a hopefully safe 37 words.)
The AP’s move to better define fair use when it comes to blogging about news is a welcome one. As I discussed last month, there is a vast gap between what publishers desire and what common practice defines in the realm of copyright. The doctrine of “Fair Use” is “unclear and not easily defined.” (This according to the U.S. Copyright office itself!) Fair use is usually decided in the courts, after the fact. Bloggers have taken their stand through their actions — for better or worse, a significant portion of bloggers view fair use liberally. Publishers have, as fits their economic interest, taken a more restrictive view. It is refreshing to see a major publisher declare its interest in finding a middle ground that it can endorse.