The founder of Woot, Matt Rutledge, may be a wealthier man following’s acquisition of his company, but that isn’t stopping him from
sending a clear message to the Associated Press: you owe me $17.50. Why
does the AP owe Rutledge? According to Rutledge, AP violated his
copyright when they included a quote from Rutledge’s email to Woot
employees in their story about the acquisition.

The quote: “For Woot, our vision remains the same: somehow earning a living on snarky commentary and junk.

Using the iCopyright AP licensing calculator, Rutledge determined that the total value of these words, by AP standards, was $17.50, and in a tongue-in-cheek blog post, suggested that the AP buy a set of Sennheiser In-Ear headphones as payment for them. After all, the news organization was infringing his copyright and needs to pay up to avoid legal action!

TechCrunch blogger MG Siegler spotted Rutledge’s post and tried to turn it into a ‘story‘. Paul Colford, the AP’s Director of Media Relations, apparently didn’t like Siegler had wrote and responded in a somewhat edgy manner. Which, as one might suspect, earned the AP another TechCrunch story.

Unfortunately, while Rutledge’s poke at the AP may be somewhat amusing, Siegler makes a mountain out of a mole hill. That’s because, all things considered, the AP’s ‘lifting‘ of a 16-word quote from Rutledge’s 1,100+ word email is a perfect example of ‘fair use‘ under United States law.

Of course, the AP was a prime target for Rutledge’s blog post given past reports that it was looking to extract $2.50/word from bloggers. Those reports, the AP claimed, were inaccurate. Even so, AP in many cases does have a legitimate reason to complain. Some bloggers do employ large excerpts from AP stories instead of taking the time to craft original descriptions of events and news stories. In some cases, a reasonable person would question whether these excerpts represent ‘fair use‘ or copyright infringement.

At the end of the day, there is a real debate to be had over fair use, and hot news as well. And it’s not a one-way street: traditional news organizations are increasingly incorporating information from online sources and they can take too much without permission just as easily as a blogger can. Unfortunately, the type of squabbling described here isn’t going to facilitate a serious discussion about these issues and frankly makes both Old Media and New Media look petty and self-righteous.

Photo credit: r-z via Flickr.