Associated Press Under Fire From Photogs

Posted on 7/1/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)



The Associated Press has often been the subject of criticism among freelance photographers, whose complaints have ranged from low rates to corporate policies. As a result of several new policies, this summer has seen a surge in negative coverage of the news conglomerate among photography, online-publishing and the AP's core newspaper markets. There are also indications that the once-unshakable monopoly is beginning to lose bread-and-butter clients.

Earlier this year, the AP introduced a new freelance photographer contract. In the analysis of longtime photographer John Harrington, "there clearly was an attempt at doing more for the photographers." However, Harrington also pointed out that the contract had some ambiguous language and did not account for standard expenses, such as parking or gas, which can amount to a significant portion of the assignment fee. While conceding that the new AP rates were higher, he said they barely kept up with inflation.

Last week, an unconfirmed report suggested that there are also new bulk image rates the AP has offered select clients. That move upset photographers, whose per-image returns continue decreasing. The same source has also said the AP has changed its policy on shoot outtakes: all images resulting from a shoot are purportedly now owned by the AP, preventing the photographer from using them as stock.

In mid-June, the AP took on bloggers in what has become a very public battle with potential legal consequences. First, AP vice president Jim Kennedy said the company was issuing guidelines on what the company views as acceptable use of its editorial content. Specifically, the company is objecting to what it sees as extensive quoting, even if the content is properly attributed and links back to the AP.

According to The New York Times, the AP has already began pursuing such infringements by sending a letter to the Drudge Retort, a left-leaning political news-sharing Web site, asking it to remove seven items that contained 39 to 79-word quotations from AP articles.

The AP has set its sites on business and revenue-producing blogs, presumably in an attempt to convert them into paying clients. Yet this backfired. The pro-bloggers' outrage is best summarized by TechCrunch's Michael Arrington. As others opposing the move, Arrington argues that quoting for the purposes of comment falls within the fair-use exception to U.S. copyright law. He also points out that the practice is at the core of a number of successful sharing Web sites, such as Digg.

TechCrunch has banned AP stories from its highly popular network of online properties. Bloggers afraid of a lawsuit may well do the same. Though the AP position is unlikely to prevail in court, Internet law is notoriously behind the speed of technology's progress. The AP has the funds and bargaining power to lobby for change and outlast many smaller companies in a lawsuit. While the full extent of legal consequences is uncertain, the AP is losing valuable goodwill among one of the most influential audiences.

It is also losing clients.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the AP's shift of focus from newspapers to other, notably Web-based, media outlets is perceived as a betrayal by its core print clients. Coupled with high premiums the AP places on its content, reductions in local coverage, objectionable service opt-out policies and the continuous decline of the print-news industry, newspapers are seeking alternatives. Eight of the largest Ohio papers have formed a news-sharing cooperative, cutting out the AP. Five Montana papers are doing the same, and there are indications that Texas, Pennsylvania and Indiana-based publishers are not far behind.




Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

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