Moreover Folds, Settles With AP

    August 18, 2008
    WebProNews Staff

Signaling that maybe nobody is willing to let this linking-and-snippet business go to court, Moreover and parent company VeriSign have settled a lawsuit filed by the Associated Press for undisclosed terms.

By the tone of the press release, though, those terms must be favorable to the plaintiff. "AP is pleased to have resolved the litigation in an amicable manner and appreciates VeriSign and Moreover’s efforts to resolve AP’s concerns," said AP Vice President and General Counsel Srinandan Kasi.

Fair use has been the general (if vague) law of Internetland, with Google and slews of other news aggregation sites relying on the fair use principles to allow them to link to and display short snippets of news content. In regard to content other than news—photos, for example—courts have upheld fair use doctrine for search engines indexing and displaying links, snippets, and thumbnails.

WebProNews publisher Rich Ord explained in October of last year, though, how the law is still fuzzy on this issue, and how the AP’s approach to it is, to put it kindly, a bit out of date. It’s been nearly ten years since this issue really came to a head, which in Internet years is something like half a century.

Nonetheless, major players lately have been reluctant to let the courts decide on news content. After suing Google last year, the AP reached a settlement and licensing agreement with the search giant to display AP news in its entirety. Looks like the lawsuit route is a winning strategy: file suit, come to settlement, get licensing agreement.

That’s not exactly going to be a deterrent for the AP in the future. If the same pattern (and some would argue, abuse) continues, all news aggregators are at risk of being wrangled by the AP. After the AP, Reuters, and after Reuters, well, everybody, and news no longer spreads, but stagnates in its prescribed corners.

The reluctance from the big boys to take fair use principles to court is disappointing. The AP has framed these battles as intellectual property and copyright ones. But no one has advocated scraping, the free-for-all copying and pasting of content onto one’s own site. At issue here is linking and snippeting, which, as far as most are concerned—including Google, historically, and entire link-based economies—have been legitimate and beneficial practices.

Maybe the next aggregation site the AP targets will feel they have more incentive (and gumption) to let a judge and jury decide. Then again, there’s also the risk it doesn’t work out, and then everybody goes down.