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By Thomas Baekdal - August 2009

Associated Press is Insane

Yesterday, Mashable got us up to speed on the latest strange move by Associated Press. Instead of doing sensible things, like embracing the modern world, focusing on creating better value, getting more people to use them and enhancing news by turning it into a social phenomenon... They decided to do the exact opposite.

Their latest 'scheme' is to demand that everyone should pay if they use their content. Doesn't sound too bad, except that it even includes when you are merely quoting them. And the price is $12.5 for 5 words! ...Minimum.

Read "Quote 5 Words From the Associated Press? That'll Be $12.50" over at Mashable

This is the most insane thing I have ever heard.

The only reason why any news agency is capable of doing business, in the first place, is because they can quote and report on what other people are doing. Associated Press does this all the time. And as a news agency they feel that they have the rights to do this under 'freedom of press' protection.

So how in the world can they demand that people pay when they quote them, but at the same time believe that AP should be able to quote others for free? And worse, how can they claim ownership of a quote that they simply reported?

When Associated Press quotes that Lance Armstrong said something on Twitter, how can they claim ownership of that? And more to the point, how much did they pay Lance Armstrong for that quote? He created it. He did all the work. Why are AP allowed to resell it, and worse, copyright it.

Another example is that Associated Press quite frequently quotes other sources. In their latest article about Tiger Woods, they wrote:

GolfWeek Magazine reported on its Web site that General Motors Co. would end the PGA Tour's longest partnership. GolfWeek also reported The Greenbrier in West Virginia is waiting for the PGA Tour to confirm it will replace the Buick Open in 2010.

- AP

So AP didn't create this. GolfWeek did! They took it, and now they claim ownership. Did they pay for it? Did they buy the rights to resell it? No, of course not. They found something on a website, and used it. Then they added a little-bit of their own, and suddenly they claim ownership to the whole thing.

In another article about Global Warming, AP wrote:

"No one technology can do the job. The full portfolio of technologies is required", concludes the report by the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent research group partly funded by electric utilities.

- AP

So what rights do they have to charge money for something other people made? What possible reason can they have for demanding money for words written by a research group? How much money did AP pay for the exclusive publication rights?

And more to the point, what if I found the same research report online, and decided to quote the same words from them. How can AP then possibly say that they own the rights to it? In this case, AP didn't write the words. I did. They just happened to be the same.

The number of ways this is ridiculous is simply staggering. If Associated Press succeeds in doing this, every news agency on the planet will go out of business.

It is like driving a car off a cliff, on purpose. It's suicide.

Destroying the ability to freely quote, refer and report on what other sources did, will eventually destroy the news agencies ability to create news in the first place.

In fact, under AP's new policy I am not allowed to write this article, unless I pay them $50 for the quotations. I am not allowed, as a journalist, to report the how ridiculous this is without paying the company who is being ridiculous.

And if this gets adopted in a wider scale, then everyone would suddenly demand that everyone else pays for the quotes they use. So when AP decides to write an article about Eric Schmidt leaves Apple's board of directors, then AP would have to pay Apple for quoting their website.

In the past, AP, and news agencies like them, could claim exclusivity. They were the only ones who could create and report the news. Every country even got laws protecting their actions.

In the modern world everyone is a reporter. Everyone is a creator. The only people who can claim exclusivity are the ones who were there when it happened. No news agency can claim ownership for content created by other people. Lance Armstrong owns his tweets, and no one can claim ownership for telling people about them.

In the modern world you have to be a creator, not a reporter. If you create news, then yes you can charge money for it. But if you are merely reporting it, then you are republishing other people's content.

When AP reports what someone said on Twitter, then they are no better, no more skilled, and no more valuable, than any other person on the planet doing the same - often in a blog.

These days, everyone is a reporter. And as such the price of reporting is zero.

I do not even own this article. The news was reported by Mashable, who got it from somewhere else. The quotes in it are the property of whom? GolfWeek? AP? EPRI? The Greenbrier? How many people have actually been involved in creating this article?

I can copyright this article as a whole (I created that), but the individual words? The quotes? The news itself? I do not own that. And quite frankly, I don't think anyone can claim ownership of it.

It's really kind of sad. I used to like Associated Press. But they just signed their own death certificate.

Coming up (later this week, or early next week): The Business of News in the Future


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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