Late last year there was a ridiculous ruling against news aggregator Meltwater in the UK. Meltwater, like a number of other news aggregators, pulls together headlines from various online news stories, along with brief snippets of the articles, and links to those articles, helping people find news relevant to them. It's your classic news aggregator. Meltwater focused on an enterprise market, helping companies or PR people keep tabs on what was being said about them or about topics of interest. Pretty standard stuff. But the ruling said that just headlines
could be covered by copyright, and thus Meltwater infringed by simply showing headlines and links. I didn't write about it at the time, on the assumption that this was just a clueless ruling that would hopefully be overturned on appeal... but no such luck. The Appeals Court has allowed the lower court ruling to stand
, meaning that anyone doing news aggregation in the UK may have to start paying newspapers
for the "privilege" of linking to them.
This is, of course, ridiculous. Almost everything in the ruling is ridiculous, frankly. Let's dig into a few of the points from the original ruling, as highlighted by the Independent (first link above):
* The headlines to the various articles reproduced in Meltwater News were capable of being literary works independently of the article to which they related;
Generally speaking, in the US, we don't consider headlines to have enough creative elements to be covered by copyright independent of the article. And that seems reasonable. Does anyone honestly
believe that copyright is necessary to incentivize the creation of creative headlines? The whole point of a headline is to sell the story. There's plenty of incentive there. Putting copyright on headlines makes no sense at all.
* The extracts from the articles reproduced in Meltwater News with or without the headline to the article were capable of being a substantial part of the literary work consisting of the article as a whole;
Meltwater News tried to get us as a customer two years ago, and sent us some sample reports, so I'm actually quite familiar with their "snippets." They are clearly
designed to get you to click through, and not at all designed to provide a "substantial" part of the literary work. Here's a screenshot from a report they sent us:
Yeah. I'm sorry, but those "extracts" are hardly "substantial," and they clearly do not suffice as a replacement for the original.
* Accordingly each of the copies made by Meltwater News' end-users' computers in receiving the e-mail from Meltwater, opening it, and accessing the Meltwater website by clicking on the link to the article, and the copies of the article itself made when clicking on the link indicated by Meltwater News was, on the face of it, a breach of the publishers' copyright;
Read that again. Especially the last part. The copies of the article itself made when clicking a link were infringing
. There's no way to respond to that other than to say that's insane
. That means the entire web is infringing. Any time you open any web page, according to this ruling, you are likely infringing on the site's copyright.
* Legislation dealing with temporary copies, or fair dealing for copyright material, or Database Regulations did not allow such copying;
If so, the UK really
needs to fix its copyright laws, because that's crazy.
* Thus, the end-user required a licence from NLA or the publisher in order lawfully to receive and use the Meltwater news service.
And, thus, the web dies in the UK. But now, suddenly, I'm tempted to send a bill to any UK newspaper that links to Techdirt going forward...