Online Copyright Case Study: The Meltwater Media Clipping Crisis
Between 2010 and 2014 a seminal online copyright case occupied European courts — and the outcome proved globally significant. The case involved the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) – a UK news consortium established in 1998 to oversee “the granting of blanket licenses to the copyright of newspapers.”
Online Copyright Case Study: NLA v. Meltwater
Mostly used by public relations firms, media monitoring services provide regularly scheduled press clippings. Yes, Google arguably rendered the NLA irrelevant – but that didn’t stop the service from trying to collect receivables!
When it became apparent that search engines provided the same services for free, most media monitors chuffed but continued to play along with the NLA and paid the “Web licensing” fee. Meltwater News, however, said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” To test the legal waters, the NLA decided to sue Meltwater. At first, Meltwater won, but by 2014, a high court had reversed the decision.
Online Copyright Case Study: Lower Courts Side With NLA
What were the lower court’s reasons for siding with the NLA? Well, they decided that a headline, alone, can be copyrighted. Many writers would likely agree with that sentiment, but the legal ramifications would have unintended, disastrous effects.
Why? Well, first consider that every time you pull up a website, you’re technically making a copy of that webpage. The reason why it’s not considered copyright infringement is because nearly all jurisdictions – both domestic and international – accept that by creating a website, the operator is giving users an implicit license to make a transient copy of the page, for viewing. Moreover, the advent of search-blocking technologies, like password-protected sites and robots.txt files, makes it that much clearer as to whether or not an operator’s intention is for the page to be public or private. Plus, under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, the only mandatory provision is that fees should not be charged in cases where an act is “carried out for the sole purpose of enabling… a lawful use of a work.”
Online Copyright Case Study: Unintended Consequences Led To Ruling Reversal
The NLA said its only intention was to enforce fees on MM services, but the precedence left the door open for a slew of Internet law lawsuits, and in 2014, the UK Supreme Court reversed the decision, declaring that Meltwater’s clients didn’t need licenses to view collated copyright material online. Why?
Parallel U.S. Online Copyright Case Study: Associated Press v. Meltwater
Around the same time, Meltwater was also battling it out with the Associated Press in U.S. courts over the same issue. Unlike the U.K. Supreme Court, however, the AP ultimately won because the compilation of facts is protectable intellectual property under U.S. law. Plus, judges determined that Meltwater failed to present a solid fair use claim.
In the end, however, both sides opted to drop claims and work together to develop new products. How’s that for a happy ending, eh?
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