The NYTimes Is Conflicted And Wrong About The A.P. And Needs To Stop Defending Them

The New York Times’ Saul Hansell has now written three articles defending the Associated Press and their attempts to broaden content rights beyond what copyright laws allow.

The A.P., in short, doesn’t want anyone quoting more than four words from their articles without paying, and they’ve been threatening to sue (and actually suing) parties who do quote articles.

Hansell wrote his first article over the weekend, outlining the A.P.’s strategy of defining rules outside of existing copyright laws for the use of their content. In a second article, he criticized bloggers who reacted negatively to that policy (our response was to ban the A.P. from TechCrunch and our sister sites).

Then in a third article today (maybe let sleeping dogs lie?) Hansell comes back once again and suggests that Digg, who is clearly in the A.P.’s crosshairs, is on A.P.’s side in this fight. In a comment to that article, Digg CEO Jay Adelson contradicts the article, saying “We are not supporting A.P.’s position, by any stretch.” It’s not clear if Jay simply didn’t understand the issues in his interview with the NYTimes, or changed his mind later.

But this is just too much. The A.P. is so clearly wrong in this situation that the NYTimes’ position looks ludicrous on its face. The fact that a source (Adelson) is retracting statements he made to Hansell suggest somewhat sloppy journalism. And the worst part of all is the fact that the NYTimes is a part owner of the A.P. and sits on their board of directors. This financial conflict of interest was not disclosed in any of Hansell’s articles.

To be fair, Hansell is a legendary journalist and I doubt he cares one bit about the conflict one way or the other (in other words, it doesn’t affect his judgment). And the NYTimes is also a direct competitor to the A.P., mitigating the ownership issue. But it’s time for the NYTimes to put this story to bed, or at least start disclosing their interests. If they don’t, they risk appearing nothing more than a mouthpiece for the A.P., not a balanced publication.

Update: Saul Hansell responds in the comments:

Hey Mike–
Since when is reporting two sides of an issue by definition defending one side? The fair use doctrine of copyright law, not to mention the hot news doctrine of New York State common law, is both complex and unsettled. As you and others point out, there is a clash between traditional business models and the emerging conventions of the Web. In any case, they interest me, so I write about them.