AP sues aggregator Meltwater News over copyright infringement

Associated Press | Meltwater
Six weeks after the AP and other investors launched a licensing organization to collect fees from aggregators, the AP has filed a lawsuit against Meltwater News, which bills itself as “more than a traditional media monitoring service.” AP CEO Curley calls it a “parasitic distribution service” that is undercutting AP’s business by providing its content to Meltwater clients without paying for it.

The AP says Meltwater is taking its customers — not the newspapers and broadcasters you normally think of as AP clients, and not the average guy scanning Google News at lunch, but those like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. According to the lawsuit:

The U.S. government is one of AP’s largest customers, and AP’s subscriber roster includes nearly 100 government agencies — federal, state, local and foreign — including the U.S. Senate, the U.S. State Department, the New York City Police Department, and various foreign embassies. These government subscribers often do not publish the stories themselves, but monitor the news wire to stay apprised of timely, accurate news reports as they develop. …

AP has lost, and continues to lose, customers to Meltwater over the past several years. For example, the Department of Homeland Security terminated its contract with AP, choosing instead to receive AP content through Meltwater.

The lawsuit also says that corporations pay substantial fees to services such as LexisNexis and Factiva, which do license AP content. “AP licensees also include search engines, professional service firms, and information service providers.”

According to the lawsuit, Meltwater, which says it pulls content from 162,000 sources, enables subscribers to monitor news for particular search terms. A basic package costs $5,000 a year. In addition to sending a daily email with excerpts of relevant news stories, Meltwater allows its subscribers to search its archive of stories going back at least several years, to save the full versions of articles in a clipping folder on Meltwater’s site, and even to redistribute excerpts or full articles via templated email newsletters.

Meltwater responded by saying the lawsuit is “the first we have heard of the AP’s concerns” and questioning whether the AP understands its service:

From their press release, it appears that the AP misunderstands how our service works in many key respects. It is unfortunate that the AP did not seek to discuss this with us prior to taking this wholly unnecessary step. We invite the AP to enter a dialogue so that we can better understand their concerns and so they can accurately understand how our service works.

Meltwater respects copyright and operates a complementary service that directs users to publisher websites, just like any search engine. We do not understand why the AP has chosen to single us out or launch these proceedings without notice, though we note the coincidence that the AP’s press release came out at exactly the same time as the UK Copyright Tribunal issued a major decision in favour of Meltwater in the UK. (See statement here.)

We are confident that our service is compliant with US copyright law, with the US courts having repeatedly held that Internet search is legal. We will review the AP’s claim once we receive it and respond accordingly through the formal processes, but we hope to be able to resolve this through dialogue with the AP.

The lawsuit also goes into some detail to describe the expense, difficulty and danger of gathering news worldwide. Meanwhile, aggregators have flourished:

The news industry is facing a period of crisis. Numerous venerated newspapers and magazines have folded, while others have faced slashed budgets and reduced staff. … One of the significant reasons for this crisis is that aggregators, like Meltwater, who need only bear the minimal costs of distribution without the significant expense of newsgathering and reporting, have been taking subscriptions, licensing revenue and advertising dollars away from traditional news organizations and wire services, leaving the news content providers unable to continue bearing their high costs of creating content.

In reporting on last month’s launch of NewsRight, Poynter’s Rick Edmonds wrote that lawsuits “will eventually be part of the NewsRight playbook [but]  the final shape of the venture as it opens for business is much more diplomatic and technology-driven.”

NewsRight CEO David Westin commented on the lawsuit and a U.K. ruling in another copyright case against Meltwater:

Legal developments on both sides of the Atlantic today, one a lawsuit by the Associated Press in the United States and the other the Copyright Tribunal’s interim decision in the United Kingdom, underscore the value of original news reporting globally in the digital age and the need for a convenient way to license content from multiple news sources. The Internet makes it possible for businesses to aggregate and distribute news far and wide instantaneously without accounting to those who invested in the news content.

For original journalism to sustain itself in the digital era, those investing in reporting need to see a reasonable return on their investment. NewsRight offers a way to do just this for the benefit of all:  to license quality, original news reporting from almost 1,000 news outlets, making sure that people continue to get all the news they want in all the ways they want it.

Correction: An earlier version of this post referred to NewsRight as an arm of the AP. The AP created it, but spun it off into a separate organization with 28 other investors.

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