from the don't-promote-us! dept
It’s been an interesting day for Meltwater News — a news aggregator that has been fighting in the UK over claims that it has to pay to aggregate news from the Newspaper Licensing Association. It originally lost its case last year, but successfully got the court today to slash the fees the NLA wanted to charge by 90% (showing just how much some gateekeepers overvalue their own content). Still, as Meltwater notes, the really ridiculous situation is that anyone who aggregates news and links to sources in the UK may now risk having to get a license to do so (even if the licenses won’t be nearly as expensive as the NLA would like).
And… merely hours after this ruling in the UK, the Associated Press sued Meltwater over the same basic thing in the US. The AP has always been confused about aggregators and insisted they were illegal — and has successfully pressured many other ones (including Google and Yahoo) to pay up. Now it’s suing Meltwater, claiming that the site is “a parasitic distribution service” and that it “has a significant negative impact on the ability of AP to continue providing the high-quality news reports.” To put it mildly, that’s ridiculous. If the AP can’t continue providing news because Meltwater is aggregating their stories, then the AP deserves to die.
The full lawsuit is embedded below (it’s a long one). The AP insists that it’s not against aggregators in general (though it suggests that it’s really just not against aggregators who pay them). The lawsuit seems to want to pin the general decline of the AP’s business model almost entirely on services like Meltwater. Where the AP’s argument is stronger is in highlighting that Meltwater does archive full works for subscribers (not for the public). But the details aren’t as crazy as the AP would like to suggest they are. It does not appear to make those archived works fully available — but it does two things. First it just keeps an index so that if you search on terms for AP articles that are no longer online, it tells you that they once existed. That shouldn’t be seen as infringement as it’s an index and the full articles themselves are not being displayed.
The second archiving issue is that Meltwater lets customers, at their own discretion, archive the text of articles they find. This is no different than tons of other online archiving services like ReadItLater or Instapaper. They don’t even make this that easy. A user has to literally cut and paste the content into a box to archive it — just as they could cut and paste it into an email or a text file. It’s difficult to see how that should be pinned on Meltwater, rather than its users.
On top of that, it seems like there’s a reasonable fair use argument to be made here: archiving these works for research purposes, not unlike a library would. While the AP does highlight the UK ruling discussed above… it doesn’t happen to mention that the UK does not have fair use, while the US does.
While many of the charges are about copyright infringement, the complaint also drags back out a “hot news” claim — which has suddenly become popular again after years of being considered a totally dormant concept. Of course, so far, hot news claims haven’t fared well in court, and I doubt this case will be any different.