WASHINGTON – A U.S. federal judge has ruled that the online news “clipping” service Meltwater violates copyright law by using excerpts from articles by The Associated Press, it was announced Thursday.
The AP sued Meltwater, claiming the service infringed on its copyright by delivering its articles to clients without paying a subscription fee. The case has pitted U.S. news organizations seeking to protect copyrighted material against digital rights activists who argued that a ruling for the AP would hurt freedom of expression online.
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ruled Wednesday that Meltwater News infringed on the use of AP content, rejecting the company’s claim that its service was a “search engine” and constituted “fair use” under federal copyright law.
Cote said she would consider a request for an injunction.
The AP welcomed the decision, with President Gary Pruitt saying: “For years, all of us have been hearing that if it is free on the Internet, it is free for the taking. That’s what Meltwater argued. The judge in this case just rejected that argument. We won on every single argument we made in the case.”
Meltwater, which was founded in 2001 in Norway and offers businesses the ability to monitor coverage affecting their firms, said it hopes the decision will be overturned on appeal.
“We’re disappointed by the court’s decision and we strongly disagree with it,” said Meltwater CEO Jorn Lyseggen. “We’re considering all of our options, but we look forward to having this decision reviewed by the Court of Appeals, which we are confident will see the case in a different way.”
Meltwater’s case was backed by the online activist groups Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, while the firm received legal assistance from Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. Those groups argued that an unfavorable decision would restrict the use and development of services that allow users to find, organize and share public information.
The AP was backed by fellow news organizations, including The New York Times Co., Gannett Company Inc. and the Newspaper Association of America, which claimed Meltwater was inappropriately profiting from the AP’s reporting.
In a 91-page opinion, Judge Cote ruled that Meltwater “copies AP content in order to make money directly” from copyrighted material.
“Investigating and writing about newsworthy events occurring around the globe is an expensive undertaking, and enforcement of the copyright laws permits AP to earn the revenue that underwrites that work,” she said.
“Permitting 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.”