Last February, the Associated Press (AP) filed suit against news monitoring agency Meltwater for unlicensed distribution of proprietary content. As trial proceedings continue this month, a number of digital rights advocates have expressed their concern over what could be an exceedingly narrow interpretation of the doctrine of fair use.
Meltwater's core service involves retrieving and delivering electronic excerpts of AP stories to customers searching for news surrounding a particular keyword. AP attorneys have taken strong objection to this business model, noting that Meltwater also allows customers to archive passages - and even full-text AP articles - for future access. Meltwater's ability to attract former AP subscribers, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has also been cited as evidence of direct competition.
"AP bears all of the extensive costs associated with creating its content, while Meltwater bears only the minimal costs of distribution in the internet age, and thus can undercut the AP with lower subscription rates," the AP complaint stated. "Meltwater even promotes its electronic news clipping service with a guarantee of 'no copyright fees.'"
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has since filed an amicus brief urging the court to weigh the implications of siding with the AP's interpretation of fair use policies. The advocacy group suggested that such a ruling could significantly restrict the use and development of online innovations which enable the public to locate, organize and share information for legitimate personal and professional uses. For example, saving television programs with a Digital Video Recorder device has previously been declared fair use, yet it would not fit with the AP's interpretation that content must be overtly transformed in an expressive way.