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AP Will Sell You a "License" To Words It Doesn't Own 340

James Grimmelmann performed an experiment using the AP's form to request a license to use more than four consecutive words from one of their articles. Except that he didn't paste in words from the (randomly chosen) article, but instead used 26 words written by Thomas Jefferson 196 years ago: If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea. The AP cheerfully charged him $12 to use Jefferson's 26 words. Both Boing Boing and TechDirt have picked up the story so far. Grimmelmann adds an update to his blog: the AP has rescinded his license to Jefferson's words and issued a refund for his $12. They did not exhibit the grace to admit that their software is brain-dead.
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AP Will Sell You a "License" To Words It Doesn't Own

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  • not surprising (Score:3, Informative)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:25PM (#28934479) Journal

    considering AP is a company that doesn't allow anything resembling fair use is it really surprising tht they would show the kind of laziness demonstrated here? Assuming some court doesn't strike this nonsense down as a violation of fair use rights, the system is completely broken and should be either reformed greatly or abolished.

  • Re:Hanlon's razor (Score:5, Informative)

    by Liquidrage ( 640463 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:54PM (#28934741)
    He *offered* to pay them for words they don't own and they accepted his money since the mechanism for doing so does not check ownership. It's simply a word count. AP did not seek him out to collect charges. That is a big difference. In fact, that difference to me is why it's a non-story. Basically the AP is charging on a "per word" basis. So all they need to do count words. That someone decided to pay the AP for a worthless license and the AP decided to issue a worthless license doesn't mean anything. No laws were broken. No trust broken. No rights violated. The person did this with intent to gain a worthless license even. He got what he paid for.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:56PM (#28934771)

    Of course the software is stupid... designing software that would detect whether the text was copyrighted by AP or not would be prohibitively expensive... which defeats the whole point of the software.

    The point of the software is to sell cheap licenses. That's it. If the text you are using is fair use, don't buy a license. If it's not fair use, or it's a gray area, then you can use their tool to buy a license on the cheap.

    I would also point out to everyone here that there is no defined word limit on what is and what is not fair use. Fair use is analyzed in courts using a four factor test, and the amount taken is only *one* of the factors used. Depending on how the other factors turn out, there could be no fair use even for a very short quote.

  • by PCM2 ( 4486 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @08:31PM (#28935041) Homepage

    Actually, I think virtually all book publishers only give money up front as an "advance against royalties." Often the figure is based on an estimate of how many copies will actually sell. If you write a computer book, for example, you'll probably never see much in the way of royalties beyond the original advance, because the publisher will be able to predict the market for your book and compensate you appropriately. I've heard of few instances where modern book publishers pay by the word. Magazine publishers, on the other hand, often do -- but then, the lengths of magazine articles are usually dictated by the magazine's editors.

  • by mdwh2 ( 535323 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @08:33PM (#28935061) Journal

    Yes, just like when the ATM hands me £20 notes instead of £10 notes, it's fair game for me to keep it.

    Oh wait, it's not. The law has shown that actually, even if the company gives me the money, it's not my right to take it, if it was reasonably given by mistake.

    So when it's an individual who makes the mistake, and a company takes advantage, why should that be any different? It's not appropriate to take advantage of a faulty ATM, and it shouldn't be appropriate to take advantage of a faulty input to this software.

  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @09:44PM (#28935505)

    I spoke with my wife (who is an attorney) about this, and I may have been a bit hasty.

    (1) It wasn't inappropriate for this guy to try this experiment, although the way he announced the result may have been a bit jerky.
    (2) If the AP's web site is going to be "dumb" like this, they need a very prominent disclaimer that explains how dumb it is.
    (3) If, in light of this discovery, the AP does not post an appropriate disclaimer, then they are clearly in the wrong, because then they would be KNOWINGLY selling licenses to content that they don't (necessarily) own.

  • by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_20 ... com minus author> on Monday August 03, 2009 @10:26PM (#28935779)

    What I find amazing is that people will pay for bottled water, even though a lot of it comes from the water tap. A couple of years ago Consumer Digest tested bottled water from different companies, and some of it was worse than city water. I buy filtered water but I'd rather have a filter attached to my faucet.


  • by gbarules2999 ( 1440265 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @10:39PM (#28935877)
    You drive up onto a Ford lot in your Subaru and then when you drive away they demand that you pay them for the Subaru.
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @11:18PM (#28936169) Journal

    You can, however, relicense something that's in the public domain. You're not even obliged to tell them it's public domain.

    However, you cannot claim that the recipient of such license is not legally allowed to do certain things, when it is clearly false (because of the public domain nature of the source). In this case, upon handing out the "license", AP claimed:

    The entire excerpt must be used exactly as written and the copyright attribution footer and link below must be included within the document in which the excerpt is published.

    And the footer is:

    (c) 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but even if the work is in public domain, you cannot claim copyright to it (you could claim copyright to a derived work, but not the original work verbatim). If so, what AP has done may well be illegal.

  • Actually, they do. In fact, they pay to submit those articles.

    The reporters are paid by member newspapers, who submit their articles (if they're deemed noteworthy) for the AP to distribute. The AP can then do whatever the hell they want to with them. A good portion of the time some overworked schmuck at the AP office goes through and rips out all the local quotes, and locally relevant text (so as to make it more applicable across the country) and, having changed the story more than, say, 20%, they pull the original reporters byline off of it, thus producing a story that was written by Mr. Associated Press.

    The newspapers and reporters don't care because their paper gets to use this article however THEY see fit, adding in their own local color and whatever, and then (if they've added enough) replacing the AP byline with their own byline and adding "from the ap", or "ap contributing", or whatever, to the bottom of the article.

    The problem is that, now, everyone and their mother is reprinting this stuff without putting any money or original content back in the system. So they're pissed off, and charging the freeloaders a fee.

  • Re:Hanlon's razor (Score:3, Informative)

    by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @11:30PM (#28936265) Journal

    He *offered* to pay them for words they don't own and they accepted his money since the mechanism for doing so does not check ownership. It's simply a word count.

    Actually, no, it does apparently check ownership (or at least tries to). If you RTFA and see the screenshot therein, you'll see that the system added the following attribution footer to it:

    Excerpted from AP Sources: Military-civilian terror prison eyed as published in Associated Press

    and then there's another footer underneath that claims:

    (c) 2009 Associated Press

    And the thing goes on to claim that excerpt can only be used exactly as written, and with both footers intact.

    The problem is that the system is bugged - the original article they quote doesn't even contain that excerpt. The problem is that they claim it does, and that you need their license to reproduce it. Yes, it's a dumb machine that does it, but whose bright idea was it to put a machine in charge of handing out legal documents - which is what those "licenses" presumably are - in the first place?

  • by AnyoneEB ( 574727 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @11:35PM (#28936285) Homepage
    The SQLite paid options [] include some extra features and support ("expedited bug fixes and fast, authoritative answers to common SQLite programming questions"). They do give you something for your money.
  • by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_20 ... com minus author> on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:00AM (#28937037)

    even though a lot of it comes from the water tap.

    Yes it does. But THEN it goes through massive processing...

    Not according to National Resource Defense Council [].

    A couple of years ago Consumer Digest tested bottled water from different companies, and some of it was worse than city water.

    All they found was a higher bacteria count in bottled water...

    The NRDC found more than just that, they found:
    "Contaminates of synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic were found to exceed the allowable limits under both state and water industry standards."

    If you have evidence they are wrong produce it.

    Furthermore, the idea that bacteria is BAD is a long pervasive myth that has caused substantial harm to mankind, and which scientists continually try to break people of...

    Well, there's something we agree on. I believe too many people have gone overboard trying to disinfect everyday things with antibiotics, anti-microbes, and antiseptics. However it's scientists, or their employers, who push for these things. I never heard or saw people demanding these products but I see ads for them.


"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll