NYT, Gannett And Others Join AP Suit Against Meltwater

Several of the biggest names in the daily news business joined the AP in its fight against online news clipping service Meltwater News this week. The publishers coming to support AP by filing an amicus brief in its ongoing lawsuit include the New York Times Company, Advance Publications, Gannett, The McClatchy Company and the Newspaper Association of America (which represents 2,000 organizations).

Last year, the Associated Press filed a lawsuit against Meltwater claiming the service — a paid electronic clipping service that monitors and delivers news stories on keyword-specific topics to its paying customers — violated AP copyright and competed directly against AP by illegally selling its content. Since then, the back and forth battle over fair use and what’s fair on the Internet has intensified, with supporters on both sides.

This week, the newspapers weighed in and filed an amicus brief supporting the AP (download the full PDF of the brief, which is worth reading). Here’s their take on the issue and what’s at stake:

It takes no friend-of-the-court brief for the Court to know that the rise of the Internet has been highly disruptive to the nation’s news organizations, as their readers and advertisers have migrated to the Web. In response, the nation’s news organizations, including the amici on this brief, have at considerable expense developed their own Websites and digital businesses to carry their news reports. These digital businesses are supported by electronic advertising revenue, electronic subscription revenue, and licensing income from other publishers and users and aggregators. None of these revenue streams can be sustained if news organizations are unable to protect their news reports from the wholesale copying and redistribution by free-riders like Meltwater.

Aggregators who believe that the law permits their free-riding (or that it would be too costly for news organizations to establish otherwise through litigation) will simply continue their parasitical behavior to the continuing and increasing harm of the economic incentives copyright is supposed to provide. If the massive, systematic copying of expression engaged in by Meltwater is held to be fair use, the AP (and others) would lose not only the revenues that Meltwater and others of its ilk should have been paying, but also the revenue that other media monitoring services and aggregators have been and are paying for licenses, based on their correct understanding that the routine commercial copying of the amount of expression taken by Meltwater is not fair use. A holding of fair use here would evaporate those revenues in short order.

The AP issued a statement from acting general counsel Laura Malone that: “AP is very pleased with this support. It demonstrates that the media community stands together in recognizing that Meltwater’s business of appropriating and selling media content cannot be excused as fair use and instead is infringing.”

Meltwater previously shot back that the AP’s suit threatened all search engines (it doesn’t consider itself an aggregator because it delivers headlines and short snippets), among other arguments. (Poynter has more on that, and Nieman Journalism Lab previously covered the question or whether Meltwater is an aggregator or a search engine, which matters.) In Meltwater’s corner also is the Computer and Communications Industry Association (including Google among its members) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed its own amicus brief in January siding with the aggregator in order to “to protect fair use of news coverage and reject the Associated Press’ (AP’s) dangerously narrow view of what is ‘transformative’ in a copyright court battle over a news-tracking service.” PC World has more on the defense and its implications.

This is definitely a battle all journalists need to watch as the outcome may affect what news is available and how it’s delivered digitally in the future.