The Messy Falling Out Between The AP And iCopyright

Updated with response from AP:

Back in 2008, the AP and iCopyright talked excitedly about their new partnership, an early attempt to make bloggers license AP’s content instead of simply scraping it. Now, the two aren’t so friendly anymore. iCopyright has sued the AP, and a copy of the suit is finally available.

The AP today said: “The lawsuit brought by iCopyright is without merit. AP plans to defend its rights vigorously.”

The AP’s early moves to get bloggers to license its content in 2008 were a PR disaster. The wire service in mid-2008 asked for takedowns on short excerpts from The Drudge Retort, a liberal news site that was a parody and critique of The Drudge Report. In response, TechCrunch banned AP stories from its site, and AP was widely criticized for asking for takedowns on short excerpts that many argued were obvious examples of “fair use.”

iCopyright, which the AP partnered with in April 2008, had a special role in that unflattering chapter, since it published the AP’s licensing terms. Many blogs mocked a licensing scheme that asked for $12.50 for a “quotation license” of even five words. (Those terms were set by the AP, not iCopyright.)

In a redacted public version of its suit, iCopyright alleges that AP broke its promises to use iCopyright services to track and monetize its content. In 2008, AP signed an agreement to use iCopyright tags and a special toolbar that allowed readers to get a license to use AP content in other ways, such as sharing with colleagues, emailing or printing.

But according to the complaint, AP didn’t use iCopyright services as promised, which was a breach of its contract. The suit also alleges that the AP’s own copyright-tracking registry, announced in 2010, is an attempt to illegally compete with iCopyright. In fact, the AP’s content registry was built based partly on AP’s familiarity with iCopyright’s confidential information, according to the suit.

AP hasn’t yet responded to the complaint in court, but in pre-litigation letters filed as exhibits to the complaint, the news organization denies that it violated the terms of its contract with iCopyright. AP’s lawyers also indicate that AP canceled its contract on November 15, because of iCopyright’s “failure to remit payments due to the Associated Press.”

The heavy redactions in the complaint [PDF] black out practically every statement made by any AP employee regarding this dispute, or its copyright licensing policies generally.

(Note: I worked for AP in 2007.)