How Mashable & Hacker News Ripped Off My Newspaper Story

Well there’s irony. In a Twitter discussion over fair use, quoting and giving proper credit, an example I first tweeted about how much the AP charges goes full circle back to me, without me getting credit. Man, who can I blame someone for stealing my original journalism? 🙂 A look at what happened, pulling together various tweets and posts to mailing lists. And at the end, a look at how “free” is fine when it’s offline but evil online, plus the impossibility of licensing AP content.

Back in May, my Do Newspapers Owe Google “Fair Share” Fees For Researching Stories? highlighted how the AP charges $12.50 to quote 5 words of a story. It’s all there, in the gory details. It’s one of those things I wanted to follow up with the AP about, if they’d deign to speak to me.

That point was just part of my story, and it didn’t get the attention I’d hoped. Flash forward to today. Ryan Chittum took issue with a post saying that the AP was ignoring fair use:

More pure misinformation about the AP. RT @stevebuttry: RT @mjenkins AP ignores Fair Use, treads into copyright debate:

And the Twitter discussion was on! A number of people starting chiming in, including me here:

@ryanchittum AP exec may say mashup is fine but web site doesn’t details licensing mess.

and immediately after here:

if i want to mashup 5 words of an AP story on sotomayor, that’s $12.50

That seemed to strike a nerve. I saw a number of retweets and a few hours later on the Read 2.0 list, I saw someone say this:

One of my engineers sent an example of the AP pricing:

How funny. Hours after I tweeted something, it came back to me without any indication I was the source. And then when I went to the stats, I was amazed. The link that I first tweeted to the world illustrating that particular AP example had over 3,000 clicks. Only 204 came from the unique code I’d tweeted. The other 2,800 came from people who tweeted the same link after I put it out there.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell from who were all those other people tweeting it. But in poking around, I discoverd that Mashable did a story based on the tweet from “news” that Hacker News put out there. Neither source credited me.

At first, I was thrilled. But then my editor pointed out how my content had been stolen. And that original post probably took me about an hour of work or more detailing how the AP has this misleading information about what’s fair use.

Heh. OK, I’m kind of a paraphrasing part of a nice Washington Post article that came out today that details how Gawker quoted one of their stories, further ammunition in how blogs and “aggregators” are killing papers. But it’s a nice look with some balance, as I said:

how gawker ripped off my newspaper story from washpost reporter mote balanced than you might think & irony…

And when Michael Gray asked my thoughts on what should be done, I said:

don’t know solution. sounds like gawker sent washpost lots of traffic; papers do take facts from blogs, too.

And continued:

think part of solution is not for each “side” to demonize each other. marburgers don’t help tarring all blogs as some types of “freeriders.”

The Marburgers are the two brothers who think copyright law needs to change to protect newspaper facts. I can’t wait to see how that impacts television news, has stolen from newspapers far longer than those evil aggregators. But the dynamic duo kind of irritated me today as I sat relaxing reading the Los Angeles Times (hard copy, which I pay for), when I came across an op-ed by them. As I tweeted to the world:

I couldn’t get @latimes to print letter rebutting ruttans change laws to save papers piece & now they print more nonsense

Jeff Jarvis asked for more, so I said:

@jeffjarvis @latimes op-ed from brothers marburger here rutten was in june; my letter never ran

Rutten is LA Times columist Tim Rutten. After his op-ed disturbed my leisurely Sunday LA Times reading back in May, I did an entire post poking at his arguments: No, Newspapers Don’t Need A License To Collude To Survive.

I did that a week after privately emailing Rutten, asking if he might want to talk about some of the issues he raised in more depth. No answer. No answer a second time when I followed up, either. He’s either got pretty stiff email filters or is just so swamped with email he can’t respond to everyone. Hey, I understand that. I get pretty swamped, too.

Of course, my letter in response to his column also apparently didn’t meet the high requirements of the LA Times editorial page. But a month later, another article with the “kill the aggregators; change copyright to save newspapers” does make it. No, I don’t see a pattern in all that.

Which all leaves me with this, as I tweeted also today:

in the end, we’ve had aggregators & blogs for what, 5 healthy years? is that what’s really killing newspapers?

Really. All this doom and gloom and op-ed pieces and stories in major newspapers — do we really think it’s online that’s killing the papers? Hey, I know the White House is cutting back on subscriptions, but it wasn’t because they’re getting the news from aggregators. It’s because they can get it online from the newspapers directly for free.

See, we can’t keep giving away this stuff for free. Damn all that free stuff! Except, how come free hasn’t been an issue for the major broadcast networks? I can’t recall them in the decades I’ve been watching television bitching about all those people watching their TV programs (including news) for free. I don’t recall them trying to figure out ways to “wrap” their content or fingerprint it to detect those freeloading viewers.

That’s, of course, because broadcast television has long had a model of giving away content for free, paying for it by ads. Newspapers have a similar model. My local paper, the Daily Pilot is actually given away for free. And my LA Times, hey, the subscription I pay for it is hardly covering the full cost of the paper.

But aggregators ironically are an easy way to “track” infringing uses. It’s harder for the Orange County Register to complain that the LA Times might have been tipped to one of their stories and simply done a rewrite the next day (and vice versa), plus no one really likes to talk about that. But let’s gang up on the aggregators and bloggers, who apparently single handedly have killed the newspaper industry.

Yeah, right.

Hey, you know — why don’t the papers license out their content to all those damn bloggers and aggregators at reasonable terms? Well guess what. As I told the Read 2.0 list today:

I still sit waiting to hear back from anyone on AP’s business side about how my blog can license AP content. No answer. They won’t talk to me on the press side about anything (, but this is a business matter.

Bottom line, I don’t think the AP is equipped to deal with blogs that might want to license content.

Seriously, you go to the AP web site right now. See how you can license their content, much less become a contributing member.

You want to bitch about not getting your fair share? Figure out how people can even license that first.

Oh, and Mashable and Hacker News, I forgive you.

Postscript: See “Free” Isn’t A Four-Letter Word Offline, So Why Does The Media Hate It Online? from me, which expands a bit on some of the points above.