Fair Use Case: Court Rules in Favor of Associated Press

A federal court in New York has sided with the Associated Press and The New York Times in a case involving a company that “scraped” news content from the Internet without paying for it. This case was closely watched because of its possible implications for what counts as “fair use” under copyright law in the online media world and how it may impact the future of content producers and free speech.

The defendant is Norway-based Meltwater, a service that monitors the Internet for news about its clients, which include companies and governments paying thousands of dollars a year to receive news alerts and have access to its database. “Meltwater sends its alerts to clients in the form of newsletters that include stories from AP and other sources,” reports paidContent.

The problem lies in the formatting and the content included in Meltwater’s daily reports. They include headlines, along with the first part of the story “and the sentence in the story in which a relevant keyword first appears. The Associated Press demanded Meltwater buy a license to distribute the story excerpts and, when the service refused, the AP sued it for copyright infringement,” explains the article.

Meltwater claimed it could use the stories under copyright’s fair use rules. “Specifically, Meltwater said its activities are akin to a search engine — in the same way that it’s fair use for Google to show headlines and snippets of text in its search results, Meltwater said it’s fair use to clip and display news stories,” writes paidContent.

But U.S. District Judge Denise Cote shot down the search engine defense, identifying Meltwater more as a business rival to AP. “Instead of driving subscribers to third-party websites, Meltwater News acts as a substitute for news sites operated or licensed by AP,” said the judge.

In addition, it did not pass the court’s four-part fair use test, which is used to determine whether or not the defendant is using copyrighted work for a purpose that is new or unrelated to its original purpose.

“The judgement also points to the amount of content that Meltwater replicated,” explains the article. “Whereas fair use allows anyone to reproduce a headline and snippets, Cote suggested Meltwater took ‘the heart’ of the copyrighted work by also reproducing the ‘lede’ and other sentences.”