Hot News?

I am not giving weather reports. I’m talking about a legal doctrine that originated in 1918, and is now making a comeback in the Internet age. The Associate Press this week filed a copyright infringement suit against a news aggregator called Meltwater, for allegedly repackaging and using AP content without a license. On the one hand, this shouldn’t be big news. If you use someone else’s content, you’ve got a problem. But it’s a little different here, because no one can copyright information. And in reality, “information” is what AP offers. Traditionally, newspapers subscribed to the AP to get information from parts of the world where the newspaper didn’t have reporters stationed. The newspapers put the AP content in their pages and everyone was happy. With the dawn of the Internet, and “news aggregators”, however, it’s easier to be a free rider. A site like Meltwater can cut and paste AP content without paying for it. And its defense is that it is merely passing on information, that can’t be copyrighted. The “hot news” doctrine addresses that question, in a way that recognizes the practical implications. We’ll see how this case plays out, but given the stakes for AP, expect to see this issue in the news for the foreseeable future.