AP Sues VeriSign For Copyright Infringement; Mostly Pointless

from the what's-going-on-here? dept

The Associated Press is apparently suing VeriSign’s Moreover for copyright infringement, though the details are woefully unclear (even in the AP version of the article). It’s unclear if the complaint is over the fact that Moreover scrapes and links people to AP content, or if there’s something else going on (Update below). If it is just that Moreover is pointing people to AP content, then this is quite ridiculous — but most likely driven by the AP’s ability to get Google to pay up for the same thing. The article hints that there may be a bigger problem with Moreover providing the full text of the content, but details are lacking. If it is true that Moreover provides the full text — then they probably are violating the copyright. However, if that content is simply stored away for indexing purposes, and people are sent to legitimate AP sources, then it’s hard to see how this is a copyright violation at all. If anything, it’s the opposite — pointing more people to AP content. The AP is also complaining that Moreover lists the AP as a news source on its site — but that’s just a petty complaint from the AP. Listing out news sources hardly is a violation of trademark. Hell, the AP is a “news source” for the content we write here on Techdirt all the time — and there’s nothing wrong with saying so. All in all, unless more details prove otherwise, this sounds like the AP continuing to struggle with the changing marketplace it’s facing, and lashing out at one of the companies that helps deliver more traffic to AP content for not paying the AP for the privilege of promoting AP content.

Update: Rafat Ali from PaidContent stopped by in the comments to point to the full lawsuit documents, posted on his site. From there, it appears that the AP’s lawsuit is mostly ridiculous, with just a little tiny bit of reasonable thrown in. Most of the claims are about the fact that Moreover is spidering and scraping AP news feeds, and providing both free and paid subscribers headlines and the opening lede. However, it’s pretty difficult for the AP to make a copyright claim here, since those links are almost definitely fair use, especially since they point people to legitimate AP licensees. There’s a little gray area where Moreover indexes and caches the articles on its own servers — but Google has been doing that for years without much of a problem — and if the AP is really upset about it, there’s always the old robots.txt solution. The one area where the AP may have a claim (though, the evidence does not seem clear from the exhibits) is in saying that there are times when Moreover will show subscribers a full AP article hosted on its own servers, rather than passing them through to a licensee. If true, then that would likely be copyright infringement — though the “damages” would be minimal, if anything. Finally, the claim that this is an AP trademark infringement by listing the AP as a news source seems laughable. All in all, the original assessment stands: this is the AP unable to adapt and lashing out at those who are helping to promote their content.

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Companies: associated press, moreover, verisign

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Comments on “AP Sues VeriSign For Copyright Infringement; Mostly Pointless”

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Incorrect Summation says:

Incorrect Summation

Actually, as your update shows, Moreover has committed per se copyright infringement. That is, he’s a textbook example of copyright infringement. He’s taking licensed content, and making money off it without seeking a license of his own.

Damages aren’t minimal; they can easily reach into the $1000’s for each instance because such damages are based more on punitive concerns than on remedying actual harm.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Incorrect Summation

Actually, as your update shows, Moreover has committed per se copyright infringement. That is, he’s a textbook example of copyright infringement. He’s taking licensed content, and making money off it without seeking a license of his own.

I’d argue that’s not true. Moreover isn’t making money from being an AP distributor. It’s making money from guiding people to all kinds of content. That is, it’s not because of the AP content that Moreover is making money, but Moreover’s ability to filter through and find relevant content. It’s selling a service, not content.

Damages aren’t minimal; they can easily reach into the $1000’s for each instance because such damages are based more on punitive concerns than on remedying actual harm.

Yeah, legally speaking. But back here in the real world, don’t you think that’s fairly ridiculous? Did the AP lose any money because of this? I’d argue no. I’d argue that the AP has received a lot more benefit than harm from Moreover.

Rube says:

AP's done this before

This can’t be much of a surprise to anyone. The AP has a history of defending it’s stories and content. I don’t think they have any choice since they are in the business of selling them.

The news aggregators and feed creators can either be looked at as a search engine, or as a newspaper. While the full story is still a redirect to the article, the headline and lede are all that most people read anyway. Also, the AP has a pretty good track record of convincing people to pay up. Look at Google, Topix, Knowledge Networkds and Yahoo as examples. And Moreover is making money from being an AP distributor, they sell feeds of AP headlines and content. At the very least, its a grey area… Moreover will pay because they can’t afford to fight it – Google couldn’t either.

Oh, and Google’s agreement to show only one version of the AP’s story instead of the individual paper’s is an awful compromise. It cuts the originating paper out of the loop – many of the AP stories are written by local papers and this denies them of the traffic and credit.

Finally, robots.txt is not going to stop people from getting AP content. AP content is all over the web and there’s no way that the AP can ask each website to somehow craft a robots.txt that would exclude it. In addition, many crawlers ignore it anyway.

William says:

Re: AP's done this before

Re: Rube —

Google only shows the AP version of the story when the AP originates the story. If a local paper originates a story, they are the one that Google links to. That’s what they said in their original release, and that’s also been what I’ve observed. I don’t think AP would be able to convince their members to let them have done a deal such as that otherwise, since the local papers control the AP (it’s a collective).

Alex says:

AP's Sour Grapes

AP’s claim seems utterly ridiculous. AP and 1,000s of other news and blog publishers create free RSS news feeds for the express purpose of giving the world access to their content. And the smart ones agree with the statement “Give and you shall receive”(in the form of increased readership & site traffic)

Now AP is crying “foul” because someone is using their RSS feeds? Wake up AP, you can’t control the Internet – figure out a way to “work the web” to your advantage vs. fight it.

We know you’re a “160 year old” institution – but you need to stop practicing business like a grandpa.

Rafael Cosentino (user link) says:

I think AP is not thinking clearly here

It sounds like AP doesn’t want publishers who license their content to be able to monetize it. Why would LA Times License AP content? Because they want to offer that content in RSS feeds. Publishers also want search engines to index that content and drive traffic to their site. What AP is saying to publishers is that we do not want you to monetize the content you pay us for and so we will sue aggregators to get that content out of their indexes! I think publishers will have to take a critical look at the value of licensing content if that content cannot be monetized.

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