Will Copyright Ruling Help News Industry Stay Relevant in Digital Age?

The Associated Press scored an important copyright victory when a federal judge found that use of its content by an online news clipping service did not constitute “fair use.” The decision is significant given how many people now look to the Internet to get their news.

Meltwater News Service is a subscription-based website that allows customers to request clippings of news stories containing designated keywords be sent directly to their inboxes. According to the Associated Press’s complaint, the clips include 4.5 percent to 60 percent of the original text, verbatim. However, Meltwater refused to obtain a license to use the content, citing its use was “transformative” under the fair use doctrine.

However, in a recent decision, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote sided with the AP. “AP has show through undisputed evidence that Meltwater’s copying is not protected by the fair use doctrine,” she wrote. Cote specifically noted that merely repackaging or republishing copyrighted material will generally not be deemed a fair use. In this case, she also found that there was nothing “transformative” about clipping news stories.

“Through its use of AP content and refusal to pay a licensing fee, Meltwater has obtained an unfair commercial advantage in the marketplace and directly harmed the creator of expressive content protected by the Copyright Act,” Cote added.

While the judge acknowledged that commercial Internet news clipping services like Meltwater perform an important service for the public, she also noted that this fact “does not outweigh the strong public interest in the enforcement of the copyright laws or justify allowing Meltwater to free ride on the costly news gathering and coverage work performed by other organizations. Moreover, permitting Meltwater to avoid paying licensing fees gives it an unwarranted advantage over its competitors who do pay licensing fees.”

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