USA Today Opens APIs To Commercial Use

News organizations collect lots of data, and are increasingly allowing the public to access that data via APIs. Free access to the APIs is seen by news organizations as a form of serving the public’s interest.

But, there’s been a catch: The usage of almost all of these APIs is restricted to noncommercial use.

For example, the terms of use of The New York Times‘ developer network (which contains some of the most robust APIs around) states:

You shall not … use the NYT APIs for any commercial purpose or in any product or service that competes with products or services offered by NYT.

In the eyes of the Times, this constitutes commercial use:

1. Selling New York Times content or data in any application.
2. Charging a subscription fee for any New York Times content or data.
3. Selling any application built with one of our APIs.

(An exception is made for the Times’ Campaign Finance, Congress and NY State Legislature APIs, which use public data.)

But seeing an opportunity, USA Today earlier this month announced that they were going to open up three of their APIs to commercial use.

The three APIs are the Articles, Reviews and Census APIs. Down the road, if you want to access the former two APIs, it will cost you (the Census API uses public data). Stephen Kurtz, USA Today‘s vice president of digital development told Nieman Journalism Lab last week that he still has not decided on a pricing model for the data and wants to gauge demand first.

As Nieman’s Andrew Phelps notes, USA Today joins the Guardian in moving to a “freemium” model of API terms of use. That model allows some free access—ad-supported and with data caps. Paying will remove the ads and the caps.

USA Today‘s move could be a win-win. It has the potential of being a new source of revenue for the paper (newspapers like new revenue sources). It could also spur cool new premium apps that use data the apps were previously barred from using.