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Dateline: 26 January 2000 Early Edition
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Beware The Net Bullies!
One of a school-kid's worst enemies is the school bully. Such a person usually takes the form of a bumbling oaf that inherits his power simply by virtue of the size of his muscles.

Well it seems that the same thing happens on the Net.

Take for example the unfortunate situation that the publishers of a small, not-for-profit, community newsletter found themselves in this week.

The Johnston City Gazette, published out of Johnston City, Illinois, is a wonderful example of how a group of adults and young people have got together to create a site that publishes news about their town.

While this site isn't going to win any Pulitzer Prizes for writing, and it's not quite a showcase of professional web-design -- it is a good honest attempt to give kids some experience with the world of online publishing.

It came as a surprise to those kids and the adults helping them this week when they received a thorny and officious email from a representative of the huge Associated Press (AP) news organisation -- demanding that they explain how and why AP news was appearing on this tiny site.

In fact, the operators of this tiny community news site didn't just receive one email -- over the period of a day or two, ten different people representing the Associated Press felt it necessary to demand this information from the kids and their mentors -- something which understandably produced more than a little anxiety.

To quote one of the adults involved with the site who was distraught that the kids were receiving this kind of menacing contact from AP: "we are so tired of hearing from AP that it isn't funny. We are putting our screen names on block from this point forward."

Now of course it must be acknowledged that nobody can justify the piracy of another's intellectual property. If the Johnston City Gazette was republishing AP news without permission then clearly the AP had a right to demand that such infringement be stopped.

But that brings us to the crux of the matter. It seems, according to those involved at the Gazette, the problem was simply that one of the young people contributing stories to the site had the initials A.P. -- something which clearly confused the Associated Press.

An unnamed third party had reported this to the AP as a breach of their copyright -- and the AP appeared more interested in jumping on these poor people rather than actually investigating the facts of the matter first.

I guess that young writer should feel immensely flattered that their work was confused with the prose of a seasoned professional news reporter -- but equally, the Associated Press should feel ashamed for menacing a humble community newsletter that had done nothing except try to better the prospects of a few kids.

Am I safe in saying that too many of the major media players are still having a whole lot of trouble getting to grips with the Net?


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