AP Will Sell You A License To Words It Has No Right To Sell

from the why-not? dept

Last year, you may recall, we pointed out that the Associated Press had a laughable sliding scale price if you wanted to copy and use more than 4 words (the first 4 free!). After that, it cost $12.50 for 5 to 25 words. This, of course, ignores fair use, which (and, yes, it does depend on the circumstances) almost certainly would let most people quote more than 4 words without having to pay. But, of course, it gets worse. Boing Boing points us to a little experiment by James Grimmelmann, testing out the AP’s text licensing system, where he discovers that you can put any text you want into the calculator, and the AP will gladly sell you a license. So, just for fun, Grimmelmann paid $12 for a license to a (public domain) quote from Thomas Jefferson, culled not from the AP, but from Jefferson’s famous letter to Isaac McPherson, where he warns of the excesses of intellectual monopolies:

Grimmelmann also points out the ridiculousness of the terms associated with licensing the content, including that it must be used exactly as written, and requires the exact attribution footer the AP’s system generates (which never bothers to check to see if the content is actually from the article in question). Oh yeah, it also doesn’t let you quote for “political Content,” however that’s defined. It makes you wonder if the same folks who build this little anti-fair use licensing system are the same folks who are building their DRM for news.

And, of course, there are similarly ridiculous situations, such as Dave Zatz finding out that it will cost himself $25 to quote himself (thanks johnjac). The AP keeps making a mockery of itself.

Of course, the AP has put out a statement, basically mimicking the one it put out last year, saying that the icopyright stuff is not intended for bloggers. But then who is it intended for? Considering that the AP has threatened bloggers in the past for quoting its words, the whole thing seems bizarre. So you can rely on fair use if you’re a blogger, but not… if you’re something else? How does that make sense? I’ve read through our copyright laws more than a few times, and I don’t recall the clause that says “fair use applies to bloggers, but not others.”

Update: As a few people have pointed out, after all the media attention, the AP “revoked” the license. Note the language. They didn’t apologize. They didn’t admit error. They didn’t admit awful technology and a silly policies. They “revoked” a license they had no right to sell in the first place. At least they gave him his money back.

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Companies: associated press

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Comments on “AP Will Sell You A License To Words It Has No Right To Sell”

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JJ says:

This is pretty neat. I think we could have fun with this. Notice that the AP clearly claims copyright on whatever text you enter.

Mike (or somebody else), you should enter your own article into the AP’s form, and buy from the AP a license to your own writing. Then, when one of those scammy “news” sites (the ones that just republish all techdirt’s stuff without attribution) republishes your article, you can report them to the AP for violating the AP’s copyright on your work. If AP doesn’t go after them, then you can sue the AP for, oh, how about: diluting the value of the license you purchased by failing to protect their IP!

Fun fun fun.

Anonymous Coward says:

You can put anything into an automated system and get the same results. He might want to consider that he is breaking the law by attempting to sell what isn’t his. AP is operating in good faith, assuming that the seller has the rights. When they discovered the error, they dropped him.

What’s the big deal?

Pete says:

So, all this Fair Use stuff is confusing me...

I’m a bit dizzied by the various Fair Use interpretations I’ve seen, so I clicked over to the U.S. Copyright Office site to get to the clear-as-mud definition. Wading through the page, I came across this jem:

“Copyright protects the particular way an author has expressed himself. It does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in the work.”


And this is where I get dizzy: if the copyright does not extend to the idea or the factual information, what is it that AP is claiming? The string of words and sentences that make up a story? Isn’t AP a news gathering/reporting entity. From what I remember, news stories are supposed to be factual (FOX, your copyright claims are not in jeopardy). So is it the gathering of the information that the AP is claiming, or are they failing the standard by which copyright is based?

Ugh. I’m going to go lie down.

PPNSteve (profile) says:


So as I see this, to me, it seems that the AP is going the way of the *AA’s – charging per word (song) some outrageous fee for what’s openly and publicly published (especially on RSS feeds offered to the general public) and most like asserting that the facts contained in these stories are also copyrighted and licensable.

So sad. AP used to have morals, guess the all-mighty dollar overwrites them now.

Tommy "Boy" Jefferson says:


With the new changes in the way the AP is copyrighting the news, I’ve re-written the verse of a popular song…

Oh the weather outside is frightful, (but I can’t talk about it because it’s copyrighted)
But the fire is so delightful, (since I’m burning newspapers)
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let It [censored]! Let It [censored]! Let It [censored]! (Copyrighted words removed at bequest of AP)

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