back to article EU court rules 11-word snippets can violate copyright

Amidst angry howls by the Associated Press over the internet CTRL C-ing its stories, Europe's highest court has whittled the line of potential copyright infringement down to just 11 little words. The bar was set by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) this month in a legal dispute between the Danish media monitoring firm …


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  1. Eugene Goodrich
    Paris Hilton

    (no title)

    Paris - because anything more might be copyright infringement.

  2. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    In other words...

    ... the DDF just admitted that each of its articles can be reduced to a 11 words-extract whithout loss of useful information. I think I can believe that, seeing what most newspapers now look like...

  3. The Metal Cod

    AP should remember

    It doesn't hold the monopoly on news reporting. It has also made sure that people will regard it with perhaps more than a degree of contempt. Next time AP gets caught up in a rights issue (take the IPL or the recent Aussie cricket series as examples) people may well reconsider their stances on such issues and side against AP.

  4. Mectron


    you will sued if you think about a (c) item and don't pay up

    (c) should last no more then 2 to 3 years max

    (c) should only be owned by the actuall creator and no company should be able to own (c)

    Once put on a freely accessible web page it should be considered public domain

    in the mean time.. this post is (c) by me, anyone reading it own me 1$

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Eugene Goodrich said...

    ... Paris - because anything more might be copyright infringement.

    If he'd said another 3 words, the above would have been illegal :p

  6. Si 1

    An infinite number of monkeys...

    ... with an infinite number of typewriters will surely infringe on the AP's copyrights quite quickly.

  7. Beelzeebub


    Aaaaaaargh, pffffffftt, burp! That is all.

  8. Gannon (J.) Dick
    Paris Hilton

    We'll always have ex:wo/fr/fx/@Paris

    Too funny.

    Along the same lines, I developed a general encoding scheme for (all possible) 1-3 character codes. Normally a data base of these codes is (c), but the codes themselves are not. My scheme is offered cc:CC0 - to put the "Standards" (Country Codes, Currency Codes, Language Codes, etc.) back into the Public Domain.

    Check it out:

    It's still a work in progress. I tried to register the (c) on Feb. 1; the US-LOC is still thinking on that.

    Sorry, bad title it's ex:wo/us/ca/@Paris I always get those confused.

  9. Alan Esworthy

    I wonder



  10. LaeMi Qian

    Like AFP journos have never lifeted 11+ words from other sources?

    Sounds like a real back-to-bite-them-on-the-bum in the making.

  11. Annihilator Silver badge

    One hopes..

    That ECJ rulings are not copywrited - the article lifts more than 11 words!

    Oh noes! The sky is falling!

  12. Mark Monaghan Silver badge

    Breaking news

    Mary had a little lamb, Its fleece was white as snow, I would have written more, but it's copyright you know.

  13. Mr Templedene


    Do we all have to copy 10 words of every AP headline every day and post it to our blogs/facebook/myspace or whatever?

    load of bull, how easy would it be, writing about the same news story, to come up with 11 words in a far longer piece, that seem to match?

    for that matter, for common news stories, you could be writing about a different news item and still "breach their copyright"

  14. Golodh

    Actually this ruling is quite reasonable

    Just suspend heckling long enough to consider the context. The complaint was against a firm that searches the net for keywords, collects the 5 words before and after the keyword, and relays that to paying customers.

    Now the mere fact that they got someone to *pay* for this service means that it has commercial value. No matter if it's only 11 words: the factual gist of the underlying news flash seems to have been captured to such an extent that the end result is worth paying for.

    Now what is it that has commercial value: the search service or the information that's generated? Of course that's both the service (the work needed to search for those keywords and to collect the information) and the information it provides. The service is carried out by the news aggregator, but where does the underlying information come from? Well, it comes from news flashes published by press agencies. Do they get paid for the use of their news flashed by the news scanning company? No, they do not.

    And there you have it. The news aggregator packages and resells news from third parties and receives money both for the service of aggregating the information (which it performs itself) and for the underlying information which it scoops up for free from various websites.

    Is this reasonable? Well, no. The amount of cost and effort needed to collect all those little bits of information in the first place far exceeds the effort needed to hook up a few PC's to the net, have them google for search terms, visit the offered links, copy down 10 words, and dump the result in a file.

    Now since the news sites publish this information on the web, the only piece of legislation that might be applicable is copyright law. So either the judge decides that 10 words are too few to trigger a copyright violation, in which case news agencies cannot ask the news aggregator for money and must either continue to provide free information for others to make money from, or the judge decides that even those 10 words *can* in particular cases (like this one) be a breach of copyright.

    As it's only fair that news agencies can assert copyright when it's resold, this is what the judge decided. As usual in law there are winners and losers, and the legal position of any site that collates information from other sites has just changed. Not pleasant, but not unreasonable either.

  15. Seamless

    Fits the tradtional non-controversial clipping service model

    This is nothing more than a news clipping service, of the type that has flourished for decades: clients pay the service to review published articles for items of interest--specifying the particular terms, typically the client's name and trademarks--and provide copies of the article (with the copy charged to the client, could be a purchased copy or a photocopy). It's also nothing worse than any search engine does (e.g., Google; or specialized search service such as FindLaw) when it provides a contextual snippet.

    @Golodh: "Do they get paid for the use of their news flashed by the news scanning company? No, they do not."

    Actually they do obtain the same benefit, under this scheme, because the 11 word snippet by itself is pretty much commercially useless unless the actual article (in contrast to traditional clipping service, in this case the article is deleted by Infopaq and not provided to the client) is read, which ordinarily would require the client to go read the publisher's article (just as would be the case if the client found it directly without Infopaq's alert). The newspaper publishers lose nothing by Infopaq's service, and probably gain more readership than they otherwise would have.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Follow the money...

    Golodh (@23:29) is right on.

    In this morally corrupt age of freetardism, so many people seem to forget that content is created by somebody, that those somebodies need to feed themselves. If a company takes money in for packaging somebody else's content, then they need to transfer some of that money back to those who created it in the first place. Even doing this kind of aggregation for free is problematical if it deprives the creator of revenue.

    Freetards tend to be those who produce nothing of value themselves.

    ((( A freetard wants everything but values nothing?? )))

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Story headline misleading and hyperbolic

    "EU court rules 11-word snippets can violate copyright"

    The EU court has done no such thing. It has, as your article actually makes quite clear, ruled that 11-word snippets *may* violate copyright. It has not ruled that this has ever actually happened.

  18. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge

    An infinite number of monkeys...

    ...with an infinite number of keyboards is known as The Internet.

  19. Doc Spock

    Is this Copyright Infringement?

    Article summary produced from the keyword "copyright":

    "11-word snippets can violate copyright. AP cackles with glee. By"

    "whittled the line of potential copyright infringement down to just 11"

    "and cream under the EU Copyright Directive, which makes exceptions for"

    "paper it was a potential copyright violation. From the decision:"

    "a newspaper article worthy of copyright protection. But the ECJ said"

    "creation" and thus protected by copyright. Meanwhile, the Associated Press has"

    Now, I would agree that this captures the gist of the story (i.e. The Associated Press is happy after it has been found that 11-word snippets from newspaper articles can violate copyright, based on the EU Copyright Directive).

    However, this is not the *full* story. In order to obtain the information that would lead to the above summary, all a reporter would have to have done is turn up at court on the last day for two minutes. The real reporting - that's the stuff that should be copyrighted - is in finding out the details of the case, the views of each party, the effects of the judgement, comment from affected companies/individuals, and so on. None of this is included in the snippets.

    Surely then, if anything, this would drive traffic to the companies producing the content.

    P.S. I'll see El Reg in court (when they sue me for copyright infringement of the article...)

  20. Anonymous Coward


    As I read it, the aggrgator extracted the snippet so you could see which section of the story would be of interest.

    The snippet itself probably wasn't of any interest as a link to the source material was also included.

    This is the same as Google shows you where your keywords lie within a page in a short snippet under the link in order so you can tell if the page will be of any interest to you.

    Per this ruling, Google is now infringing upon every single website's copyright! The fact that Google don't charge the end user of the service and this aggregator does has nothing to do with it - both are commercial organisations.

    If the AP wants to not offer this contact for free then a simple robots.txt will do - the fact they have a robots.txt, shown below, and this does not cover their news articles is surely a statement that in fact they *do* want robots to index their news site and, as part of that indexing, to show a small snippet of the site to users performing a search as a quick indicator as to whether the result will interest you.

    Massive Fail for the legal system on this one.

    AC as the robots.txt file was more than 11 words!

    AP Robots.txt

    User-agent: *

    Disallow: /_mm/

    Disallow: /_notes/

    Disallow: /_baks/

    Disallow: /MMWIP/

    User-agent: googlebot

    Disallow: *.csi

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I can't see why it's so difficult to create a program to paraphrase a few words and publish that. The TV manufacturers have voice to text converters, what's the problem? Surely by doing so you have created a new copyright? Frank Harris in 18xx, as editor of the Evening News, simply rewrote the text from the other daily papers and claimed it as his own!

  22. Susan Ottwell

    Not from free sources

    According to this, they were not gathering this information by searching the Internet. They were actually scanning physical newspapers using OCR software, then searching the resultant text. That does seem to put a different slant on the whole idea. Wouldn't it be a copyright violation to scan books or other written works for commercial use?

  23. Nanki Poo

    Now where does that sound familiar...?

    "The company would then send its clients a report containing the captured snippets and INFORMATION ON WHERE THEY WERE OBTAINED." (my emphasis)

    So, they're being bashed for advertising the publication? Essentially I assume this works along the lines of "Please tell us where our new product X is being talked about", they search (scanning physical media too), then send a snippet and those people follow up on that snippet by going to the source given. If that is print, then they will have to buy it. By the same standards should personal shoppers who go and buy a Dell computer for a client have to pay some of the money to Dell for showing the customer the necessary information to choose Dell?

    Seems these days if you promote corporations' wares (music, news, etc) then you will not have the law on your side. Even if you want to show support for 'global community' events such as the London Olympics online, you can't because the 'sponsors' might get upset if you use any logo that basically says Support 2012. They have a bland box you can use with no branding so just looks like another spammy ad. As they say, pop will eat itself.

    The solution's simple really... who needs the corporations? Stop promoting them.

    Power to the sheeple!


  24. Anonymous Coward


    Your analysis is correct, but misses one point. The aggregator isn't publishing the news STORY, merely a hint of it plus a link to the source.

    Imagine a story that began "Gotcha! Today the british navy sank..." The six words on display simply whet the appetite of the reader and in fact he's MORE likely to visit the source. It could be argued that AP should in fact be paying Infopac for each click-through as it is generating revenue for them.

    And if you read the judgement /for comprehension/ you'll see that the judges have rightly merely said that 11 words MAY be enough to give the story away but it depends and local courts would have to decide on a case-by-case basis.

    "Tycoon dead. Freak accident ends Blogg's reign of terror at megacorp" tells the entire story and should rightly be protected.

    "Freak accident with juicer; Joe Bloggs long rule at megacorp..." merely hints tha something has happened and deserves no protection.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where's the freetard bashing-comments disabled-Orlowski flame?

    That's all we're here for.

  26. Anonymous Coward


    You forget - the purpose of the 11 word snippet is to draw the customers attention to the articles they are interested in. i.e. AP would get *MORE* click-throughs as a result of the news aggregator. Typical case of AP cutting it' nose off to spite its own face and the law being an ass again.

  27. Circadian

    re: Actually this ruling is quite reasonable

    Sophistry only. As is most of the legal profession. The meaning twists and turns to the dance of the stretched thin language.

    We truly need to have "fair use" properly esconced into our legislation such that these attacks by lawyers can be more easily seen off. It seems now that making a dollar out of something is the only meaning in life, and every person becomes poorer for it (before anyone says that the lawyers do not get poorer, remember that they do not count as people).

    Maybe in some sense this ruling may be fair, but it can now be used as precedent to screw things down ever more tightly that no-one can ever publish anything without lawyers getting involved. At what point does the possibility pf a company to make money out of something overrule anything a real person wants? Sadly, it looks like we may soon find out.

  28. Juan Inamillion
    Thumb Up

    @Actually this ruling is quite reasonable

    Nice to see a reasoned, well-informed comment for a change. Well done, maybe the freetards will now shut the fuck up.

  29. seatrotter
    Thumb Down


    "The company would then send its clients a report containing the captured snippets and information on where they were obtained."

    Only a snippet, and the source is referenced. And how exactly does this violate copyright? The snippet is there, not to stand on its own (and cut-off the source), but to give the consumer/subscriber the chance to decide whether or not the source will contain what they are interested in. And if it is what the consumer/subscriber is looking for, they go to, or obtain the source.

    Basically, they just want more money. Or, like the R*AA and M*AA, they want to get paid over and over.

  30. Falle

    The real cause of the case

    The article fails to mention the real cause of the original court case: This service (which is not the only one to have been challeneged in court by DDF) competes with a similar service operated by members of DDF themselves.

    But of course, there is no connection between these facts.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    11 words to tell a whole story?

    (Infopaq sends a ) " containing the captured snippets and information on where they were obtained."

    Unless they are trawling for more than a single keyword per news "item", five words either side may give context so the 'purchaser' can be sure they're getting useful quotes as against 'random' matches, but surely it wouldn't give them a significant chunk of the original article, would it? I mean, if five words either side of a keyword tells the whole story, then someone at the article's source has paid a lot of money for a lot of wasted space...

    Besides, if the report also gives the source of the article as well, it's not like the report is trying to claim to have 'written' the snippet, is it? It looks to me like the report is saying "here's the proof that what we've found is relevant, now go look up the full article at..."

  32. Andy 99



    I think you'll find that I said something VERY similar last year, albeit with slightly different words. Please give me your house, 10x the money you have made from your article, and any fitish girlfriends that you may have obtained from it's use.

    It's people like you that refuse to take copyright seriously that have to give me and my fat ass friends money.


    Andy Lawyer-Scumbag-Price

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Now the mere fact that they got someone to *pay* for this service means that it has commercial value"

    You say that as if it matters; I don't agree that it does. Copyright is granted by the people of a country with the aim that doing so will increase the cultural value to those people of the material generated. Whether it makes money for the copyright holder is not directly important, although clearly is is a major inducement to people to put the effort in. Nevertheless, the intent is not to support specific business plans and it is entirely possible for a highly commercial use of copyright material to be detrimental to the country as a whole and such uses should not be protected no matter how much money it makes for the grandchildren of long dead artists, for example.

    By the same token, simply making money from using other people's material is not in itself a problem. It can be. It usually is. But it's not automatic. The issue is whether that usage threatens the future production of material which is deemed valuable to society as a whole and in this case I just don't see it. AP has many problems, but this was a threat with no teeth and unworthy of being used as an excuse to futher move the balance of power in copyright from people and governments to multinational companies who already enjoy privileges that voters can only dream of.

  34. Nigel 11

    No claim to poetry, but ...

    Seventeen moras

    together make a haiku.

    Poet's copyright!

  35. Dr. Mouse

    Must agree here...

    AP is stupid and greedy. This news aggregator service probably makes them money. It is free advertising.

    News aggregator scans in their paper, searches the content for keywords, and send a snippet of only 11 words to their client, along with WHERE IT WAS FROM.

    Now, what REAL news article will make sense from only 11 words? So the client must go out and buy the paper to read the article.

    The only way the paper could loose money from this is if the client would otherwise buy the paper every day and read through for articles of interest. But it will make more money than it looses, so it is being a money grabbing ingrate by doing this, and I am very tempted to take an 11-word snippet from one of their newspapers every day and post it on my website, just for shits and giggles. Or maybe on FB, or in El Reg's comments.

  36. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    Statein’ the bleddin’ obvious

    Simple solution, don't report AP stories, only their competitors

  37. Jon 52

    Project for the bored

    Any one care to work out based on the number of commonly used words in the english launaguage how many combinations of 11 there actually are?

  38. Alan Swartz

    Turn it over

    Maybe the aggregators should charge AP to be included in their services since AP benefits from it.

    There used to be such a thing as fair use. It seems that some corporations won't be happy until all fair use laws are destroyed. The next thing to be made illegal are libraries for allowing people to read content they haven't paid for.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Kettle? Black?

    Ok, but surely the press should pay the owners of the web sites that their "journalists" crib from when "googling" to flesh out a story, or do they think that this should be a one way street?

  40. Stevie Silver badge


    [Re "Amateur" by AC] Far easier to write your entire stolen-from-teh-intarwebs story in bendy Capchafont, since the basis of the process is OCR, and about as sensible. The freetard mentality that informs the whole issue would forbid writing anything new, especially code. PHP Capcha converters are available freely, and are doctrinally sound.

    The solution is actually even simpler than that: Pay for your plagiarised AP stuff or bloody well write your own stories.

  41. I didn't do IT.

    @No claim to poetry, but ...

    Correct syllables,

    but you need more words

    to get copyright money.

  42. Jason 40

    So Google's cache is in copyright violation??

    Pretty sure it's more than 11 words......

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