Smithers: Re-Leash The Hounds

There’s a hoary old aphorism that I recently forgot, and am now being reminded of: in any dispute, there are three sides — his side, her side, and the truth.

The other day, I cheerfully jumped on the bandwagon and started bashing the AP over their dispute with the Drudge Retort. (NOT the Drudge Report.) It turns out that the AP has a rate list for excerpting their articles, and the story was that they were preparing to apply those rules to bloggers.

Not. So. Fast.

It turns out that someone NOT directly involved in the dispute has chosen to speak up, and there is, indeed, another side to the story. And it looks like the AP might not be acting extremely heinously in this matter.

Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association (and, I believe, someone whom Kevin has had some very productive dealings with), had been brought in to see if he could mediate the dispute, and he says that the AP very well might have had grounds for complaining.

I’ve made it clear before that I have a special loathing for plagiarists. Those are the people who take others work and present it without attribution, either explicitly claiming credit for it or implicitly by presenting it without an author’s credit. I’d like them to be consigned to the special hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.

Well, a cousin of the plagiarist is the copyright infringer. Those are the people who reproduce others’ work without permission. They often give full credit to the original author, so there’s no attempt to claim the credit, but the fact remains that the words they are publishing are NOT theirs to publish. The author (in nearly every case) retains ownership of their work, and they have every right to regulate how their work is used.

(Wizbang is a special case. As is noted on the bottom right of every page, everything written here is the property of Wizbang LLC, owned by Kevin. He and I have an informal agreement for transferring ownership of my articles to me should I ever leave (and I have absolutely no plans to do so any time soon), but until that day when we need to formalize that deal, he continues to own every one of the 3,500+ articles I’ve written here. And that’s just fine with me.)

Well, it appears that the Drudge Retort was reproducing entire AP articles without permission, or paying for the articles.

That sort of thing has happened around here, both by authors and commenters. And I’ve stepped in and squelched it whenever I’ve caught it. Certain authors have had their postings edited and been politely chided in private. Certain commenters have had their comments edited and, in one case, the commenter banned for repeatedly putting Wizbang in legal danger by reprinting entire articles in comments. And one author (who works at a portion of the site I normally pretend doesn’t exist) I personally “narced out” to Kevin when he/she/it was reprinting entire articles as part of his/her/its hysterical screeds. (No, I won’t name names.)

If Drudge Retort, either through its owner or contributors, was reprinting entire AP articles without permission (as Mr. Cox says, and I have no reason to doubt his word), then they were clearly in the wrong, and the AP was entirely justified in seeking to protect its rights. It appears that they might have been a bit clumsy in their handling of the matter (which might seem a bit odd for a company that specializes in communicating, but their ineptness in many areas is legendary), but at the core it seems they were on fairly solid ground in their complaint.

That isn’t easy for me to say. I still have a great deal of contempt and loathing for the AP — their coverage in Iraq and the Middle East has been woefully biased and downright dishonest, and I am convinced that they cheerfully side with terrorists and insurgents and often act as their propaganda wing — but in this case, it looks like they are the wronged party, and they have been acting in an appropriate manner.

Or maybe not. After all, this IS the AP we’re talking about.

In the meantime, I’m going to declare a unilateral moratorium on bashing the AP over this mess until the full details come out. Lord knows there’s plenty to bash them over, so should I feel the need to do so any time soon, I need not invoke this incident.

My sole consolation is that I was hardly the only blogger to jump on the bandwagon, let alone the most prominent. The movement swept up tons of bloggers, from across the political spectrum, all of us more than ready to believe the worst about the AP and unleash our collective scorn and vitriol and biting wit against them. (I am reminded of a certain chihuahua I knew years ago, who would hump any ankle at any opportunity.)

Well, I’m backing away from that one, and I’d urge everyone else to do the same until the dust settles a bit and things grow a bit clearer.

There are a couple of valuable lessons here. The first is that there are certain things that transcend ideology, or even politics in general — bloggers from every corner of the blogosphere were all over this one, including tech blogs, music blogs, mommy blogs, and pet blogs, just to name a few. The AP, through their clumsy handling, managed to stumble over one of the few triggers that can get us all thoroughly riled up and united.

The second, though, is just as important: we really need to “look before we leap.” Enough of the 800-pound gorillas of the blogosphere jumped on this one without all the facts (Michelle Malkin and Kos, just to name two) that they lent their credibility to the argument before anyone really took a good look at the AP’s side of things and considered that they might not be completely in the wrong.

We messed up, and we need to remember this as well. That is the more important lesson.

Wizbang Weekend Caption Contest™
Seventeen teenagers make a pregnancy pact and are happily knocked up.