If you work in the business world, you might have heard the phrase: “Ask forgiveness, don’t ask permission.” This phrase is supposed to reflect how you, as an employee, might take calculated risks in your day job to “get ahead” in your career.
As a writer, the reverse is often true, especially if you’re writing for the internet.
The Associated Press released a press release late last week dubbed, “Associated Press to build news registry to protect content.” Additionally, they’re also charging a sliding scale of $2.50 per word for a quote from one of their articles per this Mashable article entitled, “Quote 5 Words from the Associated Press? That’ll Be $12.50.”
In an earlier post, I talked about the Top Five Writer Misconceptions about Online Publishing. You might recall Misconception #2: My article will only be found on the site where I published it. The recent decision by the AP supports that misconception, by even charging for what I would call “fair and reputable” by offering commentary and then quoting and linking to the AP article’s original online source.
Most of the internet’s content is structured in that way. You have original content which is then spread via social media and blogging; people often take a critical or an editorial approach to the content and build around it. Many of the web’s most popular sites, for example, are primarily aggregators that pull in content from other sources or find links on the web and talk about them. (Boing Boing, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report just to name a few.)
Between potentially getting sued for libel and now this new action by the Associated Press, I believe it is now (more than ever) vitally important to protect yourself as a writer and ask permission when you’re quoting an article. When I wrote my article for SFWA about personalization, I contacted the authors directly and asked them for a quote. Why? Two reasons. One, I wanted to offer personal examples of SFWA members to support my opinion. In order to do that, I felt I needed to ask permission because I was talking about someone’s online presence, which may (or may not) support their platform or reputation as a writer. Two, asking for permission gave me the chance to touch base with these authors and ensure that I was acting professionally. Did I need to ask them permission? Absolutely!
Asking permission to quote someone’s article can also help you network, too. I understand that you may be on a deadline (Read my latest post about the Hazards of Getting There First) but as I’ve mentioned several times before, there is a lot on the internet that is still uncharted and unexplored. Internet law is not set in stone. By establishing good, professional practices you can protect your reputation and the reputation of the source you are quoting.
No matter what I may think of the AP’s recent practices, I feel that this will not be the first (nor the last) major publisher/company to go this route. Content on the web has been published unchecked for so long; the rabbit is already out of the hat. As a result, the potential for bad PR is huge because content providers and readers both have years of established expectations for consuming and producing content which is, in many cases, “free.”
Regardless, as a writer I will continue to ask permission, even if I have personal opinions about whether or not a particular ruling is a good one.