The AP Will Sell You a “License” to Words It Doesn’t Own

The Associated Press has become so deranged, so disconnected from reality, that it will sell you a “license” to quote words it didn’t write and doesn’t own. Here, check it out:

AP License

I paid $12 for this “license.” Those words don’t even come from the article they charged me 46 cents a word to quote from (and that’s with the educational discount). No, they’re from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Isaac McPherson, in which Jefferson argues that copyright has no basis in natural law.

Does that stop the AP? No. They tell me I have to use the sentence “exactly as written” and heaven help me if I don’t include the complete footer with their copyright boilerplate. Along the way, their terms of use insisted that I’m not allowed to use Jefferson’s words in connection with “political Content.” Also, I can’t use use his words in any manner or context that will be in any way derogatory” to the AP. As if. Jefferson’s thoughts on copyright are inherently political, and inherently derogatory towards the the AP’s insane position on copyright.

I require no license to quote Jefferson. The AP has no right to stop me, no right to demand money from me. All their application does is count words to calculate a fee. It doesn’t even check that the words come from the story being “quoted.”

Copy and Paste Excerpt Twelve Dollars, Please

Is it any wonder the AP also tries to deceive bloggers into thinking it’s not fair use to quote five words? Their abuse of the public domain is just the reductio ad absurdum of their abuse of fair use. The whole thing is a vile species of copyfraud.

Update: License revoked.

Update: The AP has released a statement; I respond here.

Kudos to James for calling them out on this. And to you, Cory, for re-posting James’ research on Boing Boing. A well deserved cyber pat on the backto both of you. It’s revolting how far our culture has fallen in its worship of the almighty dollar. The pathetic thing is that in this particular case we seem to actually be strangling ourselves. If ideas were able to truly be expressed freely then it would be easier to find a cure.

But wait. We have the first amendment, don’t we? Free expression guaranteed by the constituion? Guess copyright isn’t covered. Seems AP is competing with Disney for who can be the Grand Satan when it comes to copyright law. Glad to see we still have a couple folks crusading for free expression. Keep it up. Your work IS appreciated!

This is hilarious. I wonder if they have any lawyers at the AP, or if they’re just making up copyright law as they go. (Truthfully, I think it’s painfully obvious which is the case.)

Actually, Jefferson was writing explicitly about patents, not copyrights, in his famous letter to Isaac McPherson. On the other hand, consideration of everything Jefferson wrote about copyrights and patents leads to the conclusion that Jefferson viewed copyright in exactly the same way. For example, one of Jefferson’s rare explicit mentions of copyright comes in an 1816 letter to Samuel Kercheval:

I am entirely in sentiment with your letters; and only lament that a copy-right of your pamphlet prevents their appearance in the newspapers, where alone they would be generally read, and produce general effect. The present vacancy too, of other matter, would give them place in every paper, and bring the question home to every man’s conscience.
Here Jefferson clearly recognizes that copyright can sometimes act to prevent the diffusion of knowledge.

Mockingbird — did you get AP’s permission to quote Jefferson?

James, did you really pay the AP $12.00? On the one hand, I suppose you have to pay in order to complain, but on the other hand, this seems to only encourage them to engage in further copyfraud theft.

the ap is assuming that the text you paste into the box is theirs. this is a pretty safe assumption because there is no reason for someone to pay for a quote that they don’t have to, the user will ensure that the quote is the ap’s.

But if you happen to pay them for a quotation that isn’t theirs, they’re not going to give you your money back, are they?


I’m trying to duplicate your experiment to see what iCopyright is really doing, but I was unable to find the “licensing toolbar” that is promised by iCopyright:

Look for the licesning toolbar links on articles you see online. Click the “Save” link to save articles here, in your personal reading room. They will be available for as long as the publisher allows.
I suppose “licesning” will soon be trademarked as what the AP is doing, since “licensing” is not really possible??

Eric, It’s hard to keep up with AP articles, since they’re a wire service and articles age quickly. Try this article, which is the most recent “Top News” story on on as I write. I’m seeing the toolbar on it.

This is a bad example of the AP service. Much as I might want to agree with you, the purpose of the AP license is for people who want to ensure they’ve paid for the content.

If you cherry-pick portions of AP content for which you, knowing copyright law, could use without attribution, licensing, clearance, or other obstruction, then you are overpaying, obviously.

I could also extract the words “the” “a” “of” and claim that AP was claiming a copyright.

Try sending micropayments via Paypal (i.e. send a cent) - all your money will be consumed in fees. But that doesn’t mean that “paypal consumes 100% of money in fees”.

Neither is AP attempting to claim copyright of centuries-old copyrighted works.

There are other aspects of AP’s licensing push that are worth thoughtful analysis - but this is not a good example.

Wow, You sure can read and follow directions. I would have kept your money if I were AP. You want to pay me for some public domain text, sure why not.

Congratulations on manufacturing an inane controversy and getting knee-jerk outlets to pick it up because you’re actually upset about something totally different. You may now move on to blogging 102 with our blessing.

While I have little sympathy for AP’s position on copyright license fees for short excerpts, this is clearly a design flaw in the licensing software and not a deliberate attempt to gouge money for publications they don’t even own. They probably didn’t budget for the required article database and search algorithms that would be required to validate that the text entered was actually from an AP copyright. Since a simple word to price calculation form is about 10,000 times cheaper than such a database with rapidly changing content, it’s not too surprising.

But this opens them up to a whole new world of legal liability. Think it’s bad that they charge for public domain text? What happens if someone enters and pays for text that is currently under copyright by another entity. AP then becomes a copyright violator themselves, since they are certainly distributing usage rights for work that they don’t own. I can’t wait for a Disney-AP lawsuit.

i think yall are missing the point that fair use is in jeopardy by everyone saying “oh this is all ours you cant copy it in any portion small or otherwise”. but thats not how idea work they are information and soon as you have given it out it can be stolen and i know you worked hard to get that info but magicians have the same problem people give away their trade secrets and they can no longer make money on their videos. its a problem with distribution i think that if you make something public there should be a way to use it for fair use and cite the source “If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” -Newton everything is just an echo of a old idea look at all the retweets on twitter. give credit and give it all away and find a better way to make money off your ideas than trying to sell same information over and over because someone will copy it and give it away and then your business model is shot but w/e im sure yall will disagree but with all the crap that gets stolen i just dont get why you would waste so much time trying to control something that is uncontrollable

I went to Harvard with James, and he was one of the 4-5 classmates who made me think, “Yeah, this guy is just waaay smarter than I am.”

That said, I have to be a bit sympathetic to the AP on this one. James’s tricking the AP form into into selling him other content is a good publicity stunt to call attention to his problems with their license claims, but it seems reasonable to me for the form to assume a certain degree of good faith on the part of the user. Nor am I convinced by James’s reply to the AP letter, that the form makes it easy for somebody to enter the wrong quote and pay for the wrong material. In my view, it’s quite reasonable for the AP to put the onus of entering the correct quote onto the user. When they say the form isn’t meant for bloggers, I think they mean that it isn’t meant for people who are actively trying to break the form, instead of using it for its intended purpose.

James’s concerns that they’re using an extremely stringent interpretation of fair use are another matter entirely, one not particularly represented by his stunt—but one which I’ve now read about, having been drawn to his comments by his stunt. I’m not sure whether to admire this or be annoyed!

(1) Replace all the spaces by hyphens and see how this affects the price. (2) Hopefully AP’s tool now counts the whole excerpt as one word (3) You basically now have AP’s permission to copy whole news stories (provided spaces are replaced by something else), because no court will find copyright theft when the rights holder admits the excerpt is only one word. (4) Profit!

Pete: exactly! it works. Well, not much benefit here though. 40 words reduced to 5 lowers the price from $17.50 to $12.50. Full article will

Steve: “In my view, it’s quite reasonable for the AP to put the onus of entering the correct quote onto the user.”

From my (engineering) point of view is absolutely, absolutely unreasonable. First, it opens them to exploits - see Pete’s exploit. Second - it’s automated, why not to check? Just - why? It costs nothing to check, it’s just one additional automated operation. Third, to sell something you don’t own is fraud, fraud is actionable - what will be their defense?

Also: “When they say the form isn’t meant for bloggers” - they are lying, plain and simple. The form itself has a button to sell a license to “Post all or part of this article on a web site, intranet, or blog.” The guys who wrote a response has not bothered to look at the form he wrote about…

The whole thing is so absurdly stupid, it’s insane.

All words are political.

Hey, I’ll sell you a license to quote those same words from Jefferson for $10.

And if you send me $10, or send the AP $12, then you have only yourself to blame. Nobody can force payment for words in the public domain, obviously.

As Bruce commented above, this looks like a hole in the AP’s automated text licensing system, not a design to sell what the company didn’t create. It could cause trouble for the company.

But blaming the AP for making it sell you rights to something in the public domain? That’s like taking a paper napkin from McDonald’s, leaving a dollar on the counter, and then complaining that the firm is overcharging for napkins.

J.L.: I’m a trained professional; I know what I’m doing. Most users of this tool won’t have that knowledge—and if they rely on the A.P. to inform them honestly about their need for a license, they’ll be defrauded.

J.L.: This is the article: These are words of some congressmen that I want to dissect in my blog: “I hope it comes out of the stimulus program and doesn’t add to the debt,” Graham said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. “I think the Senate will act this week and get some of the clunkers off the road.”

If I click on “Obtain Copyright Permissions” button I will see the following text: Please honor copyright! Piracy hurts creators, devalues their works, and puts you and your employer at risk. Learn more. Under learn more: Realize that it is remarkably easy for digital rights bounty hunters to catch and prosecute pirates, via technical means and whistle blowing. [and we all know that $1.5 million fine imposed on non-commercial copyright infringer, right?] Next: Use common sense when applying the “fair use” test. Contact the owner of the work to be sure you are covered under fair use.

Fair use - contact owner and obtain permissions. Right? That’s what we just were doing: we clicked on button “Obtain Permissions”. Let’s continue: Select “Blog” button, enter the words of the senator, see permission price: $17.50.

Basically: AP sold me the words it did not own by using threats, plain and simple.

BTW: who owns the words said by the senator? Probably me - I am the one who pays him…

Dear Senator Graham,

I was going to criticize in my blog the following your words (cited by the Associated Press): “I hope it comes out of the stimulus program and doesn’t add to the debt,” Graham said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. “I think the Senate will act this week and get some of the clunkers off the road.”

I respect your views and your vote on this issue though do disagree with them. But this disagreement is not the topic of my question. I wanted to cite you in my blog but I was not sure if my citation would constitute a fair use, so I have contacted AP to check. AP told me that I need to pay $17.50 just to cite your 42 words in my blog. Just to cite!

I’ve paid them because I felt the issue is urgent (and fines for copyright misuse imposed by US Congress are steep). But I want to double check. Have you really transfered the copyright to the Associated Press? Are you really going to make a profit from each criticism of your position? I hope not. Let’s sort this out. Something’s definetely wrong here.

Here’s my license to your words sold by AP for $17.50: Here’s the AP article that cites you:

Sincerely yours, Mike Placid


Waiting for answer…

The sad thing is that by demanding that people pay for a headline and link, the really interesting part of the license model was completely lost: you can use AP articles on your web site or blog for free as long as you use the whole article and include AP ads. Alternatively, you can pay and use the article without advertisement.

In fact AP is using the same company (iCopyright)to manage their content as Reuters. And when Reuters did it, it was applauded as an important step into the right direction. The difference: AP is expecting to be paid for excerpts whereas Reuters doesn’t. Instead, Reuters reminds people to observe fair-use criteria and links to an explanation of what “fair use” means. That explanation is carefully worded to suggest that, if in doubt, you should always get a license.

What this demonstrates to me is how even showing minimum of respect for the people whose money you want can make huge difference. Whereas AP apparently perceives most bloggers and website owners as thieving profiteers who cannot be trusted, Reuters appeals to their judgement and fairness, which doesn’t mean that Reuters wouldn’t sue if you stole their content. The result: Reuters is seen as a pioneer, AP as dinosaur who doesn’t get it.

I appreciate your spirited defense of the public domain, but I think you’re voluntarily tilting at windmills over the charge to quote Jefferson. If you invoke the tool and explicitly tell it that you want to pay to quote an AP story, then you enter Jefferson, the bible or a bit of doggerel from wherever, and it says ok, give me $12, what have you learned? That the tool trusted that you had sense enough to actually put in something from a copyrighted AP story. Your complaint seems to be not that it wants to charge someone after they ask it how much, but that it doesn’t go to the pains to be sure it’s not dealing with an idiot. Not to mention that Jefferson’s argument is about as applicable today as is the 2nd amendment.

Not to mention that Jefferson’s argument is about as applicable today as is the 2nd amendment.

In light of Heller, I agree.

I suppose my first thought when I read about AP’s new licensing system was, “is AP licensing the use of text from copyright owners they quote?” While they appear to be asking you to pay to use that quote from a Senator, they don’t appear to be stepping up to pay him for their use of it.