Did European Court Just Make Search Engines Illegal? 11-Word Snippet Can Be Copyright Infringement

from the bad-bad-bad-bad dept

With the AP being out there claiming that fair use only covers snippets fewer than five words, there are some questions about where the boundaries for "fair use" of "snippets" lies. Unfortunately, a new ruling in Europe seems to be pretty extreme (in a bad way). The ruling found that a snippet as short as eleven words could be copyright infringement. The case involved a clipping service, that would scan in articles (from print publications) and then would give clients very short snippets that highlighted the keywords they were monitoring. In many ways, this sounds like the physical equivalent of any online search engine. The clipping company claimed that it was legal because it was "transient," but the court said that since the service printed the output on paper, it was "permanent." Yikes.

While the online world is a little different, it's not too difficult to see how someone could make a case that a search engine is doing the identical thing to what the clipping company was doing here, and the question of whether or not the result is "transient" or "permanent" is entirely dependent on the end-user -- which was part of why the court found paper to be permanent:
"Since the data capture process is apparently not likely itself to destroy that medium, the deletion of that reproduction is entirely dependent on the will of the user of that process. It is not at all certain that he will want to dispose of the reproduction, which means that there is a risk that the reproduction will remain in existence for a longer period, according to the user's needs,"
Certainly, you could say the same thing about a search engine result (the end-user could certainly store them -- or [gasp!] print them), and then you've got the same problem. No matter how you look at it, this is a bad ruling. It makes little sense from the perspective of publishers, clipping services, users or the entire online world.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jul 2009 @ 11:38am

    Re: This post is copyright (c) property of Tristin (TM)

    The numbers of words perhaps isn't the relevant part here, it's more to do with conveying the thought or idea in the text. If 11 words is enough to convey the meaning of much of the text, then the judge feels it may be infringing. Heck, in theory, you could infringe on three words "michael jackson dead", if you want to look at it that way.

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