NY judge says running a search engine for news is a copyright violation

A NY federal judge handed down a terrible ruling in AP vs Meltwater, which turned on whether providing a search-engine for newswire articles that showed the first sentence or two of the article was fair use. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Corynne McSherry sums up many of the ways in which this judge got it wrong. We can only hope for an appeal and a better ruling.

Second, the court implicitly adopted AP’s dangerous “heart of the work” theory. AP contended that sharing excerpts of a news article must weigh against fair use if those excerpts contain the lede. The court stressed that the lede is “consistently important” and takes “significant journalistic skill to craft.” But that is beside the point – there is no extra protection because something is extra difficult. More important to the fair use analysis is the fact that (1) is primarily factual; and (2) contains precisely the information the user wishes to make known to others. As we explained in our amicus brief, this case illustrates why the heart of the work doctrine does not mesh well with highly factual, published, news articles. When it comes to news articles, an excerpt that is shared will very often be the most “important” aspect of the work – but that importance will derive from the uncopyrightable factual content, not the expression. It is not the “heart of the work,” but a piece of the factual skeleton upon which the expression hangs.

AP v. Meltwater: Disappointing Ruling for News Search