The AP has acknowledged that its demand to remove seven short (33 to 79 words) quotes from The Drudge Retort blog was an overreach. But the news agency is standing by its basic argument, that copying of those lead sentences (or ledes as journalists sometimes write) is illegal and not fair use.
“Cutting and pasting a lot of content into a blog is not what we want to see,” Jim Kennedy, vice president of the AP and the blogosphere's new #1 enemy, told the New York Times. “It is more consistent with the spirit of the Internet to link to content so people can read the whole thing in context.”
Coincidentally, I spent all day on a plane today, and am now about halfway through Lawrence Lessig’s new book, "Remix." (I'm writing a review, to be published in a few months.) The book doesn't come out until October, but Lessig has a few passages on the freedom to quote that I think are apt here.
Writing, in the traditional sense of words placed on paper, is the ultimate form of democratic activity, where, again, “democratic” doesn’t mean people vote, but instead means that everyone within a society has access to the means to write. We teach everyone to write—in theory, if not in practice. We understand quoting is an essential part of that writing. It would be impossible to construct and support that practice if permission were required every time a quote was made. The freedom to quote, and to build upon, the words of others is taken for granted by everyone who writes.
So what is the role of a quote in a world of hyperlinks? Quotes still matter because writing still matters; they are still fundamental to art, to journalism, and to freedom. To link is to point; to quote is to build an almost tangible connection between another’s ideas and your own. As the world’s largest news organization, the AP is essential to our democratic conversation. I am proud to have been an AP reporter, albeit for a short time, and I have many friends who work there, good reporters all. The organization’s recent skirmish with digital-age quotation is misguided; here's hoping it ends shortly and is not repeated.