AP Suing Moreover Like It’s 1999

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The Associated Press is suing news-aggregation site Moreover and its parent company VeriSign for copyright infringement for snippeting and linking to its news. This harkens back to the early days of the Internet when news aggregators were routinely legally hassled for linking.

AP Suing Moreover Like It's 1999
AP Suing Moreover Like It’s 1999


>>> What do you think? Provide your perspective on this lawsuit here.

I founded the first news aggregation site on the Internet back in 1996 called NewsLinx which had the slogan, "All the News On the Web About the Web." NewsLinx is now owned by Alan Meckler’s Jupitermedia Corporation.

I remember getting personal calls and emails from virtually every site I linked to including the Wall Street Journal, Time Warner, L.A. Times and many others. The calls and emails usually started with the question, "Do you have permission to link to our articles?" Old media legal departments were clearly very green with the Internet. My typical response was, "No, we don’t have permission and if you would like us to stop linking and driving traffic to your site just let me know. However, we feel we have every right to link to your articles without permission because the Internet itself is based on the concept of linking."

Much of this law is still not completely settled, but publishers generally rely on the fair use principle that small snippets linking to a story are permissible. Cases like AP vs. Moreover can open a can of worms for the largest news aggregation sites on the Internet such as Google News and The Drudge Report. This likely is the reason that Google signed an agreement with the AP a couple of weeks ago to link to AP stories within Google itself rather than other AP partner sites like CNN. 

What would be of concern to Google, Drudge and many others is a rogue ruling by a not-so-Internet-savvy Federal Judge that would put real restrictions on linking to news. So far, the prevailing standard has been the legal concept of fair use. Hopefully, this case is assigned to a judge who realizes that the Internet is based on links. The use of an article title and short summary has been considered fair use in past cases. However, I am not sure if the use of smaller versions of copyrighted pictures regularly used by Google News and Drudge will withstand this fair use test.

The legal filing itself shows a complete lack of understanding of the Internet in general and online news aggregation in particular:

6. Defendants are also trespassing on AP’s chattel by using search robots or "crawlers" to retrieve information form AP’s computer servers in order to display, archive, cache, store, and/or distribute AP’s proprietary works.

To me item number 6 simply defines a search engine. All search engines violate this standard of copyright and this has been deemed fair use. What the Moreover service does is aggregate certain news including news from AP and provide links for people to get to said news. They don’t link to news that isn’t made publicly available and they don’t provide full copies of articles to clients.

The AP’s lawyers go to great lengths to build up the copyright value of their first sentence in their articles, called "leads." They state, "Leads are so important that journalism schools offer courses dedicated entirely to techniques for creating them." The first sentences are often the only snippet taken as part of news aggregation link sites like Moreover and Google.

It makes you think that if fair use is narrowed to this extent, no article could quote another article. Or perhaps the AP lawyers would agree that you could quote another article as long as you don’t link to that article; thus, a kind of backwards SEO.

The heart of the complaint by AP is their contention that you can’t operate a news aggregation site like Moreover (or Google NewsTopix, Drudge, WebProWire, Digg and Techmeme) as a commercial venture. Unless you have an agreement with AP to carry their stories, apparently, you can’t link to them.

Specifically, AP does not like the marketing approach taken by Moreover because it competes directly with their syndication business model.

36. Defendants vigorously stress the "hot news" aspect of their services. And, as Moreover pronounces in its website-based marketing materials: "For current awareness, news aggregation is far superior to traditional syndication. Why? Increasingly, critical business information appears first, and more often exclusively, on the open Internet. Because Moreover aggregates news already available on the Web, there are no hidden content access charges like those associated with syndicated news services. The result is a fixed, predictable cost structure that delivers a rapid return on investment.

AP’s legal complaint finesses the fact that Moreover does not actually use more than the headline and lead of their articles. They also fail to mention that Moreover provides direct links to AP and to AP partner websites for every article. The complaint states:

41. Thus, Exhibits F – J show that Defendants are simply copying AP’s proprietary material, including the headline and all or a portion of the lead, and delivering it on a real-time basis to their paying subscribers and other users.

The links themselves make it clear to Moreover subscribers that these are not their articles. The links also are a traditional way on the Internet to acknowledge copyright to the publisher of the article. These points are all conveniently left out of the Moreover copyright complaint.

This lawsuit makes the "brilliant" case that:

– You can’t use headlines of articles without permission from copyright holders.

– You can’t use leads or short snippets of articles without permission from copyright holders.

– You can’t run a business that sorts data available to anyone on the Internet like news aggregation sites do.

– You can’t use marketing statements like "hot news" if you link to groups of AP articles.

Basically, you can’t run a news aggregation business that includes links to AP stories because that competes with AP’s paid syndication model, according to AP.

Unfortunately, an AP win here could ultimately subject the entire concept of linking on the Internet to a new legal standard, especially links to news stories and blog posts. If fair use becomes "permission linking" then much of the Internet could be challenged.

The AP seems to think it has a monopoly on high quality content. A legal standard based on this case would mean all linking is subject to approval by the party being linked to.

 >>> Comment on this article here.

 Download the complaint in PDF formate here:



AP Suing Moreover Like It’s 1999
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  • James

    Let me start by saying that my understanding of the issue is that Moreover is making money by linking to AP news stories which are on AP websites. This reminds me of T.V. Guide telling people what channel shows and movies will be on. I don’t know if T.V. Guide pays all the stations it cites but i doubt it. I can understand a licensing fee if Moreover is offering article content for a price but if they are just serving up links to AP, then there should be no issue.

  • http://www.naryou.com Billy Tail

    !No, we don’t have permission and if you would like us to stop linking and driving traffic to your site just let me know.”

    I agree with the above.

    Why have a website if you don’t want anyone to link to it?

    Maybe it’s these business trying to screw every cent out of honest website owners.

    Is it they need a new car, house, etc..
    Or dose it show just how bad there business is. Stock Holders take warning.

  • http://www.naryou.com Billy Tail

    “No, we don’t have permission and if you would like us to stop linking and driving traffic to your site just let me know.”

    I agree with the above.

    Why have a website if you don’t want anyone to link to it?

    This is what RSS fedds are about and look at the growth in that.

    Maybe it’s these business trying to screw every cent out of honest website owners.

    Is it they need a new car, house, etc..
    Or dose it show just how bad there business is. Stock Holders take warning.

  • http://www.chicagocreativedesign.com/ Rodger Kurth

    I think maybe the AP people don’t read too much on the internet itself. Isn’t every internet marketer, from legit industry pro’s to the “buy my system and make millions while you sleep” hucksters, recommending to create RSS compliant feed files of your content and ENCOURAGE aggregation? Isn’t the idea to create aggregation and links back to your site? Links you don’t have to pay for or reciprocate? Many aggregation sites offer readers a fast way to view news from a variety of sources, and only read thoroughly those that interest them the most. If the aggregation site becomes a regular stop for them, soon the aggregated content providers will get some regular visits from those same users. As the world “Greens”, the internet becomes more convenient, and traditional newspapers become obsolete and absent from most households, those with more aggregated content all around the internet will be in a much better position to lure advertisers off the printed page and onto web pages. Perhaps the writers and editors at AP are concerned that they will have to do a better job of piqueing readers’ interest in just a few introductory sentences instead of relying on their plain vanilla style of “getting the facts straight”.

  • Nick Charles

    AP? High quality content? Considering the fauxtography scandals in which AP has been associated in recent times – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_Lebanon_War_photographs_controversies – the quality of their content is very much in question. More likely they are looking for ways to force old media gatekeeping onto the new media to shut out dissent and criticism and reintroduce the last century model of ‘reader pays’.

  • http://www.wavelength.co.uk Pete Walters

    Surely the onus is upon the publisher to add value and ultimately benefit from the “loyal” traffic that is generated.

    If a famous person dies, that fact is not the unique property of one publisher. The publisher’s opportunity is to report it well and add value in a way that foster’s loyalty.

    The advent of ePaper reading devices for electronic newspapers will inevitably draw a focus upon the need to provide content that people desire sufficiently to pay an affordable price for. Many publishers are failing to take this opportunity correctly and thus only have themselves to blame if they lose out in the future.

    When the Internet first burst upon the World, wise people learned how to swim (or rather, surf)with the tide, rather than trying to stem the flow by putting their thumb in one Dyke hole and wondering why the flow just diverted to flood out elsewhere!

    I cannot believe that the AP could fail to acknowledge how important the “Management of Change” is to modern society. Doh!

  • http://www.ericward.com E Ward

    Rich, couldn’t agree with you more, and I hope this backfires on the AP. I was the publicist/link builder for Moreover.com back in the late nineties, and they were visionary just as you and Newlinx were as to the power of the headline link. If AP hadn’t been asleep during headline aggregation’s early days, they could have leveraged their name and done exactly what Moroever did and then some. Now they are trying to re-write news linking history, and I hope the judge laughs them out of court.


  • http://guanacasteresortproperties.com Max Rodriguez

    Living in a third world has its rewards, the most import is staying away of starving lawyers trying to provided food to their families on somebody else’s money. There is a tendency to “own” everything, your very image for instance, what you say, even planting the seeds of food you by at the supermarket will carry legal consequences. Regarding associate press, I wonder if one day, not far it seems, delinquents will make their “job” just to claim legal rights about copyright infringement’s. Corn seeds are suing Guatemalan Indians for using seeds from corn genetically altered that were, by chance fertile, but no one had think on paying them for we having corn in the first place. Soon you may not comment what you read in a newspaper, or recommend someone to buy such and such newspaper unless you want to be sued.

  • Carl Carstens

    If the AP is allowed to restrict the use of their copyright material, on the internet,then we are all in deep Linguine. What would be next, for them? An attempt to control ALL the news? As long as no one is claiming to be the author of such news articles that they provide links to on the internet, I see no cause for an infringement suit. It seems to me they are afraid someone might find fault with the way they present the news, ie: they will lose contol over what the public has access to.
    Just my random thoughts.

  • Francis Hatin

    Has the First Ammendment been made null and Void by Public Servants such as AP Courts Congress Senate House of Represenative Governors Mayors Local Police FBI CIA Homeland Security Executive Orders Perhaps But Maybe the Speaking of the words in Open Court Will Prevent Follies of AP and Others Past Present Future There is Little or no Room for perverting or misinterpertation of first Ammendment It Says What it Means and Means what it Say Arguement Against It are Futile At Best Remind AP they would not Exist to Complain of Alledged Infringement if not for First Ammendment Rights of Moreover and Multitudes of Others far Larger than there Little Companies of ASSO.

  • Gesst

    If people are scraping AP’s stories and presenting them as their own, that would be a legit case.  And they’d probably have a case against aggregating thumbnail images, since aggregators aren’t just taking a small piece, but shrinking down the full image.  But links?  They don’t want links?  Fine.  Give them the sword they so desperately want to fall on.  Everyone stop linking to them now, and let Reuters and other news services (who don’t have their heads up their asses) wipe AP off of the Internet and leave them crawling back to the print industry… you know, because that industry is doing SO well…

  • Gesst

    Wow, I just realized that I just commented on an article that’s almost a year old… geez.

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