Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?

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 Grimmelmann adds an update to his blog: the AP has rescinded his license to Jefferson's words and issued a refund for his $12.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.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

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

Comments Filter:
  • by Frater 219 ( 1455 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:22PM (#28934457) Journal

    I've known folks whose workplaces used to pay Sun a license fee for Perl ... the same Perl you could download for free (as in beer); and yes, the same Perl that is one of the usual examples of successful free (as in speech) software.

    No, they didn't get tech support. They didn't get to file bugs against Perl that would be resolved by a Sun engineer. They didn't even get a custom build of Perl optimized for their Sun hardware. They didn't even get a CD. What they got was an invoice ... precisely what their company's IT procurement process required.

    It's idiotic, but there is in fact a market for nothing: if you are correctly positioned as a trusted supplier, there are cases when you can get paid for delivering no product at all, but merely for carrying out the ritual of delivering a product, with all the paperwork thereunto appertaining.

  • by Liquidrage ( 640463 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:26PM (#28934483)

    This is a non-story. Some dude wanted to prove a point no one should care to prove. And he did.

    Maybe the real point isn't done yet. Maybe the real point is that tech-news places will post any drivel they can find as news that they can flimsily relate to "your rights" and technology.
    If that is the case I eagerly await his follow up story.
  • Re:brain-dead? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yincrash ( 854885 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:26PM (#28934493)
    The moral of the story is don't let content owners tell you what is acceptable fair use, because OF COURSE they will always err on it being not fair use. I think that for anyone who legitimately wants to follow the law and legitimately use a large portion of text, having a tool like this is pretty great. It's better than the alternatives of having to hassle with trying to find someone w/in the AP that can license to you or just illegally copying the text outright.

    but again, if you know you are w/in fair use, then use it, or ask an expert, don't ask the content owner.
  • Reuters text? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AhNewBis ( 42974 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @07:38PM (#28934595)
    What if the AP sells you a license for text copyrighted by Reuters or any of the other wire services? Woah, man!
  • How does the AP tie licensed text back to the article it applies to?

    They do it by not paying royalties -- they do it by buying a license to distribute the article to others.

    Let's say that you're, oh, a novelist with a 100,000 word novel, and a choice of how to get your payment. You can get paid 10% off the top for every one of your $10 books sold, OR you can get a $.10 a word for the right for the publisher to print your novel, and keep all the profit (or risk) to themselves.

    If you're Stephen King, and can expect to easily sell way over 10,000 copies, you insist on the first deal. But if you're, oh, a nameless nobody, the $10k looks pretty good. Especially if you're already on to your next project, and need to feed your kids. And if you're a publisher that sells a LOT of almost randomly selected books, the latter looks good to you too--because you pay a fair amount of money to a lot of authors, and so get that lot of books you depend on.

  • by 2short ( 466733 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @09:09PM (#28935309)
    "What if you made up a quote like "Today, Reuters announced they were declaring bankrupcy" and licensed it from the AP. Could you then attribute that quote to the AP?"

    No, obviously.

    "Do you think their system should allow that?"

    If I tell you "The sentence in question is 7 words long.", do you interpret that as authorization to claim I said it? MSWord does word counts, does that mean I can attribute anything I type into it as an official MS position? Does Chewbacca live on Endor?
  • by justin12345 ( 846440 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @10:51PM (#28935985)
    Indeed. Using Jefferson's words is not an effective demonstration of why their system is flawed. A better way of doing it would be to enter text which is you yourself have copyrighted. Acquire a license from AP for the text they do not own (because you do), publish it under their license, then sue AP for copyright infringement.
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday August 03, 2009 @11:48PM (#28936365) Journal

    Which makes me wonder... if it is in the public domain, couldn't anyone sell a license for it? And if that's the case, couldn't *I* sell a license for it, for cheaper?

    Yes, absolutely. Just so long as you don't claim that you own copyright to it, and that all rights to SQLite are reserved to you exclusively (which is what AP does here).

  • by Dragonslicer ( 991472 ) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @12:08AM (#28936505)
    Not quite. The correct car analogy would be:

    You drive up onto a Ford lot in your Subaru and then when you hand the salesman money, he takes it and says "Have a nice day."
  • Sure. Go for it. That's exactly what "public domain" means. If you can get a copy of it, you can do whatever you want with it. Why do you think Barnes and Noble can sell old public domain books?

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"