The A.P. Claims Ownership of Thomas Jefferson


Just for kicks, James Grimmelmann plugs into the A.P.'s new licensing scheme an excerpt from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to Isaac McPherson in which Jefferson harangues against the concept of copyright. The letter of course entered the public domain a long time ago.

Sure enough, the A.P. spits out the excerpt, adding that Grimmelmann can use the words only if he pays the news service $12, adds a lengthy footer with the A.P.'s copyright language, uses the excerpt "only as written," and—the kicker—promises not to use the excerpt for political purposes or to disparage the A.P.

Via Boing Boing.

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  1. ROTFL, dude that is just too funny!


  2. Copyright laws are getting way out of hand in this country. Companies & the grandchildren of writers should not be recieving royalites for things written 80 years ago.

  3. While this is amusing, Jefferson actually came to support the idea of intellectual property rights. As long as that time period was limited. The suggestion was 19 years.

    However I can't think he'd approve of someone else being able to copyright a third party's ideas just because they wrote them down once.

  4. Looks like AP is caught with its hand in the cookie jar.

  5. I knew Thomas Jefferson, I worked with Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Thomas Jefferson.

  6. What a rip-off!

    I charge only $8 for a license, $0.30/word, *and* you can paraphrase!

  7. There's a lot to criticize about the AP's view on their IP rights and their licensing, but this is more an example of lazy coding than bad ideology. There are certainly few occasions where 5 words WOULDN'T be fair use, and $0.30 to $1.50/word certainly points out how badly they overvalue their content, but this is really a crap in/crap out issue. It expects the user to determine what's fair use and what's necessary to license. All the AP calculator does is a word count. It could have had you make a selection and click a button, counting the words in the selection, subtracting things the AP doesn't own (quotes, say), and then doing a calculation. It could even have been more nuanced and say that if, for instance, less than 5% of the article was quoted, that your quote is fair use (my apologies if anybody just fell out of their chairs, laughing at the idea of the AP acknowledging fair use...), but it doesn't. You ask the AP to let you pay for a license for whatever YOU put in the box, and it's not shocking that their script says "Sure! You owe us $AMOUNT!"

    Of course, I guess that in itself says a lot about how much the AP understands about positioning itself in a marketplace with modern technology and about those who consume its information (thereby giving it value at all).

  8. sigh.

    I'm such a sucker...

  9. 'AP' is short for Associated Piss.

    That 'news organization' has gotten worse and worse. Their articles often contain mis-statements of fact and outright bias.

  10. Maybe particularly egregious assertions of rights that one doesn't have should be actionable in IP.

  11. In other techy news. Google's Schmidt is off Apple's board. Incoming three way cat nerd fight. Ya for upcoming competition and innovation.

  12. Will they now also be claiming ownership of George Jefferson?

  13. Voros,

    You didnt trademark DIPS?

    Or patent the process for calculating it?

  14. Yeah, silly me. I stupidly just told people about it without hiring any lawyers. I wasn't aware my discovery gave me a right to own parts of other peoples' cerebral cortices.

    Won't do that again.

  15. Voros,

    My cerebral cortex thanks you.

    Did you at least get some cash out of Michael Lewis?

  16. Nope.

    The Red Sox money (not a ton) and a couple hundred dollars from a website last year were the only monetary compensations and those weren't really for DIPS but for just being the guy behind it.

    The non-monetary compensation has been pretty nice though. For example, guys like you on the internet know me and say nice things about me. Some folks have taken me out to ballgames, including Reason's own Matt Welch. 🙂 I've got a new friend here in Arizona that's taken me out to a number of games which is nice. And of course while the Red Sox money wasn't much, it still was an opportunity to live out a dream and work for a major league team (and, oh yeah, win a World Series while I'm at it).

    So the money's been lousy but the fringe benefits quite nice. Can't complain, though unfortunately I've been known to anyway.

  17. Voros,
    First let me say, you are The Voros McCracken?
    omg! omg! omg! You are soooooo cool!

    And you got a ring, right?

  18. They stiffed me on a ring too.

    Instead I got a watch.

    The Battery Needs to Be Replaced Now

    The gentleman from the story below took it a lot worse than I did though:

    For Red Sox, if It's Not One Curse, It's Another.

  19. an excerpt from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to Isaac McPherson in which Jefferson harangues against the concept of copyright.

    The excerpt quoted merely says that it's unnatural to consider an idea to be property. I hate to be the one to remind you, but YOU CAN'T COPYRIGHT IDEAS, only particular expressions of ideas. You can take the ideas from a 1,000 word passage actually written by AP, and express them in a different way and have no worries whatsoever about copyright violations.

    I know intellectual property laws aren't terribly popular in this corner of the net, but acting like this is an indictment of copyright law is just gilding the straw lily.

  20. So bogus. I guess that's what you get for working for the wrong Sox.

    Urkobold will certainly add a link to your site - that's like THE highest praise available on the internet. It's like winning the lottery despite being too smart to play and waking to Salma Hayek making you homemade corned beef hash and telling you to wait in bed because she's going to bring it to you. It's a pretty big deal.

  21. I probably could have sold the ring for more than I made in the 2.75 years I was there, so it's hard to blame them for not wanting to double my salary in one fell swoop.

    The extra Social Security hit for being self-employed kind of sucked though. I'm sure I'll get that money back when I retire. 🙂

  22. Voros - IANAL, but I think you still own the copyright, and if you really wanted to, you could probably force espn and others to stop using your concepts. (This assumes you weren't working for hire for the Red Sox. Work for hire belongs to those who hire you unless specified otherwise.)

    However, if you didn't register your copyright with the Library of Congress, you can't sue for monetary damages.

    Also, highnumber is confused. You worked for the correct Sox. Sorry the cash wasn't all it could have been, but your karma was massively upgraded, I'm certain.

  23. BP,

    A couple of things:

    1. I have absolutely no desire to get ESPN to cease and desist. I actually enjoy having it there and am slightly proud of its being there. Maybe they could have asked me for the okay before doing it, but whatever.

    2. I am kind of retarded in that I try as hard as I can to live by whatever moral compass I've set for myself. It's caused me no end of problems and missed opportunities. While I can be fairly wishy washy on a lot of libertarian things, I'm a strong opponent of the idea of IP. I find it incompatible with my notions of humanity. Yes there are gray areas at the margins that are difficult to process (for me anyway), but mostly if I tell you something, that knowledge should be yours to do with as you see fit.

    3. My dad was a lifelong White Sox fan who was overjoyed when the White Sox won in 2005, so on which Sox is superior, I have to go with him. 🙂

  24. Oh and the statistic/concept in question was invented/discovered long before the Red Sox job. The Red Sox job was as a result of the Red Sox thinking I was unusually clever for making the invention/discovery.

  25. Voros - I wasn't suggesting that you do that, only that it was potentially within your rights as they are currently applied. I can relate to how you feel. While I believe that copyright and patents potentially have both moral value and utility, I think they are currently an avenue for rent seeking.

    As for not being bitter, I can relate this: I went to business school at one point about a decade ago. I was with a team that made a presentation to the Tupperware board. An idea that I'd had was that they should start putting kiosks in malls, since it could fit in somewhat with their "party" model (e.g., successful hostesses get to sell at the kiosks), yet perhaps present a way to broaden their market and lead to an eventual change in the way they marketed their products. This idea was somewhat mocked by the others in my team, but they kept it in at my insistence.

    Within a year of the presentation, Tupperware announced they would be having kiosks in malls at certain times in the year. A few people who knew the story asked me if I was angry about this. I didn't care then, and don't now. I knew it wasn't a silver bullet for all their problems (they really needed to ditch the "party" model), but it could provide a start. I was a tad miffed that I didn't get an offer from them, but then I really didn't want to work for Tupperware anyway.

    Anyway, as someone who still has horrible childhood memories of Bucky Dent, thanks for whatever help you provided to make 2004 possible. FWIW, I didn't mind seeing the White Sox win, either.

  26. I guess my feeling on someone stealing an idea without giving due credit, is that I think it makes them jerks but not criminals.

    ESPN I believe does give me credit somewhere, so that's fine by me.

  27. Tulpa | August 3, 2009, 2:00pm | #

    I know intellectual property laws aren't terribly popular in this corner of the net...

    This corner of the net doesn't get riled up about property theft unless it's a government doing the taking, e.g. eminent domain. But a pirated movie or software or music? Fair game.
    This is libertarianism in the 21st century.

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