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Summary:

The Associated Press is becoming more aggressive in trying to rein in the information the news service scatters around the world. After help…

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The Associated Press is becoming more aggressive in trying to rein in the information the news service scatters around the world. After helping to launch a copyright monitoring service, the AP is now suing a company that clips headlines and news items for its customers.

In a complaint filed this morning in New York federal court, the AP accused Norway-based Meltwater of wrongfully repackaging and sharing its content without a license.

The lawsuit comes at a time when content owners continue to wrestle with how to stop what they perceive as free riding by news monitors and aggregators.

The problem for news providers is that facts and headlines can’t be copyrighted. In response, the providers have been trying to resurrect a doctrine known as “hot news” that the AP itself helped to create nearly a century ago.

The rule was born in 1918 when the Supreme Court agreed to grant AP a property right in its news in order to force William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers to stop rewriting the AP’s war accounts from Europe. Hearst’s aggressive tactics included cabling stories to reporters on the west coast — this meant that California competitors would sometimes scoop the AP on its own stories.

But despite the ruling, the hot news rule lay dormant for most of the 20th century. It only sprang back to life in 2010 when a New York judge agreed to forbid a financial aggregator called Fly-On-The-Wall from reporting on investment banks’ newsletters.

The reborn rule soon suffered a setback, however, when an appeals court overturned the Fly-On-The-Wall decision and created complicated hurdles that a publisher must overcome before they can claim to own hot news. So far, no company has met these hurdles.

According to lawyer Elizabeth McNamara, who is representing AP, the Meltwater situation is a case where hot news should be applied. She points out that the clipping service is in direct competition with AP and has poached clients such as Homeland Security.

McNamara adds that AP’s hot news claim is strengthened by the fact that Meltwater also offers archives and a ‘build your own newspaper’ service to its clients based on others’ news reports. If Meltwater is indeed in direct competition with the AP, it may have more success than claimants like NBA who once tried to use the “hot news” rule to stop a company from sending basketball scores to the pagers of fans.

In its lawsuit, the AP is also claiming copyright infringement on the grounds that Meltwater has copied and stored the articles, and that it is sharing “the heart” of the articles by reproducing more than 30% of them.

Meltwater, the clipping service, has been on the defensive in other countries, including the UK, where courts have said it must obtain a license both to use content and a second one for its clients to share that content. Also today, Meltwater obtained a minor victory of its own when the UK Copyright Tribunal agreed to lower the licensing rates.

In its complaint (embedded below), the AP seeks an injunction, damages and an order that Meltwater destroy all AP stories in its database. The AP is likely using the demands as leverage to force Meltwater into obtaining a license similar to ones it grants to Google (NSDQ: GOOG) News and other services.

These type of revenue streams have become increasingly important to AP after a number of its newspaper clients balked at high prices and quit the service.

AP and Meltwater
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  1. This has nothing to do with the “hot news” doctrine, which went so far as to protect the substance of the news article- ie, that a revolution happened in Egypt or there were riots in Greece. Meltwater is far different- they copy AP stories WORD FOR WORD. At least AHN rewrites the stories from an AP template. This is totally different. Cut and Paste to earn money has never had any protections.

  2. Robelroy, thanks for your comment. If you look at page 30 of the complaint and elsewhere, you will see that AP is indeed making a ‘hot news’ claim against Meltwater (in addition to several copyright claims).

    The crux of the hot news claim, as I understand it, is that Meltwater, under New York law, is allegedly wrongfully piggy-backing on the AP’s labor.

    I am not weighing in of whether the AP is right or wrong in claiming hot news – I’m just observing that east coast publishers have recently been trying to pump new life into the doctrine.

    1. I just saw that. Irrespective, it’s the fourth claim and one that the AP will lose. The claims about cutting and pasting are all legit though. BTW, Meltwater seems to be a bit kooky…
      http://antimeltwater.blogspot.com/

  3. …picking up where righthaven left off?

  4. Why doesn’t Meltwater go out and create the content? because it costs money. AP should have a right to protect its work. 

    1. That’s a pretty irrelevant comment and shows that you dont understand this industry.

      They don’t create the content because that is not what they do. the same as every other search engine or clippings company, they point people towards content.its like saying, ‘why doesnt google write content’

      I am surprised people file law suits when they dont know the whole truth. for example, MW does not offer full text, we’ve tried their services and know that!

  5. I completely agree with Dan.  Content theft is an ever growing threat and we need to help content producers learn about their options.  Jeff, if your readers are looking for help, we’ve built out a Content Protection Network called Distil.   www.distil.it   We’d love to hear your feedback if you have other ways to mitigate theft of the written word. 

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