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A recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York declared the Associated Press the victor in a copyright dispute. The defendant was Meltwater, a service that provides “clips” of online news. An article described this situation as a battle between copyright protection and online freedom of expression–a battle in which copyright protection came out on top.
Meltwater defended its actions as fair use. Successful examples of fair use include criticism, education, research, and news reporting. However, the judge was not convinced. While news reporting can be an example of fair use, the court concluded that Meltwater used too much of AP’s material to qualify under the exception. The judge stated that Meltwater “copies AP content in order to make money directly” from the material, and that “[p]ermitting Meltwater to take the fruit of AP’s labor for its own profit, without compensating AP, injures AP’s ability to perform this essential function of democracy.”
Needless to say, the AP, the New York Times, the Newspaper Association of America, and other news companies were all pleased with the verdict. Meltwater’s CEO, Jorn Lyseggen, on the other hand, stated, “[w]e’re disappointed by the court’s decision, and we strongly disagree with it.” Meltwater plans to pursue an appeal.
Meltwater’s clipping service has been compared to Google alerts. European news outlets are attempting to pursue a similar suit against Google. Like Meltwater, Google is defending its actions on the basis of fair use. Google also contends that its service increases publicity for the European news outlets. It will be interesting to see the influence that the AP decision has over the Google conflict. However, an article stated that “we might also want to note that however much the various European newspaper groups have complained about Google News none of them has ever actually managed to get a court to agree with their whinings.”
Is the AP decision too constraining of online freedom of expression? Should it be overturned on appeal? And what does this outcome mean for the future of Google?
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