TechCrunch and Woot play to AP’s Weakness

Some people—heck, some organizations—have no sense of humor. Humorless perhaps best describes Associated Press, which apparently didn’t get Woot’s joke about owing money for a blog excerpt. TechCrunch’s MG Siegler put AP in its place today, that’s assuming there isn’t yet a nasty takedown-notice response coming.

Some quick background: About two years ago, AP decided that no one should excerpt its content without paying for it. The policy defies decades of journalist practices and fair-use laws. I could understand AP going after blocks of text, but no, it’s the little excerpts, too. Excerpt up to 50 words and AP expects you to pay $17.50; 100 bucks for 251 words or more. The approach is controversial, as it should be.

Now for the story: On June 30, 2010, Woot announced its acquisition to Amazon. AP reported the news in an eight-paragraph story. Overnight, in one of the best creative-marketing blog posts I’ve ever seen, Woot called out AP for doing to others what it won’t have done to itself. AP excerpted from Woot’s acquisition-announcement blog post. From today’s Woot post:

Why, isn’t that the very thing you’ve previously told nu-media bloggers they’re not supposed to do? So, The AP, here we are. Just to be fair about this, we’ve used your very own pricing scheme to calculate how much you owe us. By looking through the link above, and comparing your post with our original letter, we’ve figured you owe us roughly $17.50 for the content you borrowed from our blog post, which, by the way, we worked very very hard to create. But, hey. We’re all friends here. And invoicing is such a hassle in today’s paperless society, are we right? How about this: instead of cutting us a check for the web content you liberated from our site, all you’ll need to do is show us your email receipt from today’s two pack of Sennheiser MX400 In-Ear Headphones, and we’ll call it even.

What a simply brilliant response! As a long-time journalist and someone who blogs under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons license, I’m delighted by Woot’s tongue-and-cheek approach. But the story doesn’t end there. MG Siegler posted: “Woot To The AP: Nice Story About Our Sale—You Now Owe Us $17.50.” In follow-up post “AP Not Amused By The Woot Story, Tries To Play The Oil Spill Card,” MG delightfully explains what happened next. Briefly: Paul Colford, AP’s director of Media Relations, asserted that Woot’s CEO had been interviewed for the story. All true, except the story quoted three words — ”I’m really excited” — from the interview in the last paragraph. The larger excerpt came from Woot CEO Matt Rutledge’s blog post.

You can read MG’s post for all the nitty-gritty details, and they’re good reading. But I must blockquote how he finally handled AP; it’s simply astonishing, and nastily spotlights AP’s pay-to-excerpt policy. He writes:

I’m a little confused by this whole thing. So is Rutledge. I think the AP is too. But I’m going to go with what I can only assume is their policy now. Since I technically ‘interviewed’ Colford for this post, I’m going to copy an AP story below. I’ll go with an oil spill one since he was so quick to point those out. And sure, I only got a few words out of Colford, but since that doesn’t seem to matter, I’m just going to paste an entire AP story below. I like this new policy.

Sure enough, amended to MG’s blog post is an 882-word AP story.

Photo Credit: Rochelle

Editor’s Note: This post was moved to from on Sept. 27, 2010.

Do you have a news media or copyrights story that you’d like told? Please email Joe Wilcox: joewilcox at gmail dot com.