High Court ruling implies headlines are copyright – we're one step away from links

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The UK’s High Court has ruled that news monitoring agencies will have to pay publishing companies to use their web content, effectively re-classifying headlines as separate literary works subject to copyright.

The moves follows a legal battle between the Newspaper Licensing Agency, owned by eight of the UK’s largest newspaper groups, and Meltwater, a news monitoring agency. Although cutting agencies like Meltwater pay the NLA a fee for reproducing full-length articles, this case was supposed to clarify the limits of the NLA’s licensing scheme. Meltwater didn’t like its clients needing to have a licence from the NLA for the use of mere headlines and short extracts from its service. Instead the case has ruled that similar aggregation sites that charge for a service will have to pay for those headlines.

Meltwater plans to appeal against the decision, but if it’s upheld, you can expect a wave of more legal actions. And thus the fabric of the UK’s online publishing industry will start to break down. Well done High Court.

Technically, that won’t affect blogs or search sites since they don’t charge. But it’s not far away from some publishers claiming that because those links are monetised in some other way, that they can charge for their use since the headlines and, therefore the links to those, are copyright.

Meltwater makes the point that the ruling will mean that “simply browsing copyright-protected content made freely available on the internet will infringe copyright if it is read without a rightsholder licence.” Quite.

Needless to say the NLA is very happy as the total UK market for online news monitoring is worth around £10 million and “publishers should earn a fair share of revenues from paid-for monitoring.” This is all they are arguing over? A measly £10m? How pathetic. It shows how desparate some newspaper publishers are.

I hope the courts see sense in this.

  • http://jetlib.com/news/2010/11/27/uk-high-court-ruling-implies-headlines-are-copyright-not-a-good-idea/ UK High Court Ruling Implies Headlines Are Copyright. Not a Good Idea. | JetLib News

    […] Read the rest of this entry » […]

  • http://dejunky.nl dejunky

    This is a joke right?

  • Jack

    Surely links would fall under fair use doctrine? I mean, the primary factor on whether an agency would fall afoul of fair use would be direct monetisation of the link (or premium services connected directly to the supply of such a link) itself.

    I honestly can’t see that this would affect Joe Blog(g)s’s ability to freely comment on and link to an article.

    “simply browsing copyright-protected content made freely available on the internet will infringe copyright if it is read without a rightsholder licence.”

    I think the key phrase there is “made freely available”. If a site is making copyrighted material available for public viewing, without any kind of clear-and-present forewarning about rights usage, that’s their tough cheese.

    I can see the slippery-slope argument behind this article, but really, there are too many other subsidiary general safeguards for this ruling to have any kind of precedential impact on the general public.

    That said, I fully sympathise with Meltwater’s predicament and the absurdity of the ruling. Genuinely would have thought that fair use would cover headlines for indexing and linking purposes, since they are NOT a major part of the work and even for a monetised service would provide commentary on the actual work itself.

    • http://twitter.com/bentoth Ben Toth

      Fair usage maybe. But UK the applies the more the more restrictive concept of “fair dealing” , which might have come into play in this judgement.

  • Anonymous

    What about freemium aggregators like http://www.PoliticsHome.com – they’re screwed!

  • http://trendoloji.com/?p=393 İngiltere’de Yüksek Mahkeme İktidar Başlıkları Copyright mısınız Implies. Iyi bir fikir değil.

    […] Read the rest of this entry » […]

  • http://schlampe.tk/ Mafjosnik

    This is definitely a joke

  • http://deepsoni.me Deep S

    Umm lol where disqus -_-?

  • marvin

    on the other hand, the headline can be the most creative part of a news report circulated by thousands of media houses. Even a single word can matter … (http://tcrn.ch/ehdXrT )

  • hahnchen

    Further proof that copyright is just there to benefit the incumbents, and that our judges need to be put out to pasture.

    I wonder if the MP3Tunes case in the states is going to end up just as ridiculously backwards.

  • JJ

    Haha… People will get around it… What’s going to be really funny is in 10 years time the people and organizations that are litigating are going to look back and realize how futile their efforts are. I think that aggregators should pay the publishers a cut just out of common decency but forcing them isn’t going to help the publishers efforts!

  • WTL

    Finally some common sense prevails. The notion that an entity can take the work of another without their permission AND make money as a result of that usage undermines the basic tenets of private property. Yeah, yeah, yeah I know all about today’s perverted “Fair Use” doctrine. Hopefully, this ruling is an indicator of a changing tide in that regard.

    The story of the U.S. internet 1.0 has largely (outside of ecommerce) been written on the backs of traditional content producers – and at their expense.

    And yes, headlines are creative works. Many publishers have special staff who only write headlines. It’s not easy work. Why should joeblowsblog.com make ANY money in the course of expropriating it?

    As a publisher, I can’t just go to your website, yank a photo you took and publish it in my newspaper. Yet for some reason, the “internet class” believes they should be able to do just that, in reverse.

    • Andy

      You can set robots.txt that tells not to index your content. Or you don’t put it online. Or put up a paywall. But you can’t have it both ways: want free traffic but then sue those who oblige in giving it to you.

    • http://www.technollama.co.uk/ Andres

      You DO know this is an English ruling, right?

  • idioblictic

    there is a Russian proverb that says:
    “Teach a fool to pray and he will break his forehead against the ground.” quiet similar to the ‘wisdom’ of these rulings and judges.

    my guess is they will attempt to force search engines like google to pay for showing “headlined” results which will simply force google to kill all traffic to these sites by not indexing them. ipso facto they will solve the problem of infringement by not having anyone read their great and irrelevant publications…


    • WTL

      You’re presenting a false choice. The two options are not: A) Allow Google, et al, co-opt and profit from my content with no compensation. or B) Force them to stop.

      Search is a business and so is content creation. Those two parties will find a mutually agreeable way to split the revenue pie. Right now, the “law” is giving Google and others a free ride.

      As for your ipso facto argument, if Google loses its ability to index “everything”, they lose the raw ingredients to their little money recipe. Imagine if every news producer struck a deal with Yahoo search to exclusively index their content. Google would be devastated virtually overnight. Of course, this perfectly illustrates the power and value of the underlying content itself.

      • http://www.GlynskyandPete.com EngineRoom

        WTL looks like a content mafia troll and maybe I am feeding him/her, but I’ll give it a shot, maybe he/she is just young and/or ignorant.

        The internet, which is way more then just the web, was NOT built by, with or on the back of what you call “traditional content producers”.

        Just read the wikipedia article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet.

        “Traditional content producers”, or as I call them Old Media, is trying to wrestle its way and business model into the internet for decades ignoring the basic technical principle of the internet: creating copies of (a) file(s).


      • WTL

        Hardly a troll. I am however one of those evil content producers of “old media” as you call it.

        What you see as “old media” wrestling their way into the Google business model is hardly the case. Both are advertising dependent businesses who compete for many of the same ad dollars. Right now, Google is winning that battle.

        I don’t think you would deny that content producers have as much right to the use of and compensation for their content as THEY wish. After all, they paid to create it. If they don’t want local aggregators, bloggers and search engines taking their content unless its under their terms, that should be their right. That’s hardly the act of any “mafia” enterprise. It’s capitalism.

        Just because Google has more efficiently monetized the content of the producer, does not diminish the fact that the content belongs to the producer.

        Let’s say I create some great new patented widget but am not very good at commercializing it. Then, someone else comes along, uses my patented widget and devises a way to make a fortune. Should I not be compensated for the use of my intellectual property according to rules that I set?

      • http://www.planet-purvis.net Terry Purvis

        I completely agree with “Engine Room” – the Internet wasn’t designed with Traditional Media in mind, copying files and sending them from one place to another is how the Internet works.

        When I look at a file such as the “front-page” of a news website where is that file/page? It is physically inside my computer, along with any images and so forth that go with it.

        In reality websites have no “visitors”, we make requests for a copy to be sent to our machine.

        How do you stop a system that works by making physical copies and sending the to the requester?

        How do you stop the requester from keeping that copy?

        Someone may be a “content-creator” but what you are creating has to be copied before anyone can see it.

        Very few people in the “content-creation” business actually understand this concept and expect laws to to uphold their ignorance.

  • http://www.jerpoop.com/2010/11/27/uk-high-court-ruling-implies-headlines-are-copyright-not-a-good-idea/ UK High Court Ruling Implies Headlines Are Copyright. Not a Good Idea. | Jeremiah Abraham

    […] Read the rest of this entry » […]

  • http://www.elbyeatelkepear.forumotion.com ostaz4u

    this very nice joke

  • Lewis

    “Are copyright”? C’mon, you can do better than that.

  • http://www.GlynskyandPete.com EngineRoom


    You are a troll or maybe just ignorant.

    The internet is not google. The internet is about making copies available.

    Every page view of your “valuable content” creates a copy. If you don’t want that, there is an easy solution: Don’t put your s**t online.

    Or at least exclude search engines from indexing your “valuable content” in the robot.txt file. (Get help, if you cannot educate yourself.)

    But then, search engines and aggregation sites don’t do the selling for you. No more visitors from referring sites. Probably nobody will look at your s**t anymore?

    Put up a link, let’s see your valuable content.

  • Andy

    It’s like spoiled children. “Wha, wha, don’t link to our websites, you’re stealing our headlines!” Is there a stupider group of people who are essentially objecting to the idea of free traffic for taking five or six words?

  • marvin

    @wtl: A content provider can choose to let Google et al index your content or not (robots.txt). It does seem a bit weird, though, to first give your content away and benefit from the extra traffic generated, and to then sue the search engines/aggregators for a share of their revenue.

    If you tried to give away the gadgets in your example for free, and then tried to sue money out of your customers, you might find yourself in court pretty quickly.

  • whatever

    I find the whole thing baffling

    Content Providers : if you don’t want your content aggregated update your robots.txt accordingly. If you have a sweet shop and don’t lock the doors what do expect is going to happen? Also, if you don’t lock the doors and your sweets dissappear don’t then say they were your sweets and that you want to get paid for them.

    You have locks, use them. If you don’t then stop whinging, going to the courts is a poor reflection on you not the aggregators

  • http://www.delectablychic.com Cynthia

    Everyone knows that linking drives traffic. If one site comments on another site’s article, then more people are going to click and therefore read YOUR PIECE. More traffic is a good thing.

  • SN User

    Maybe I’m missing the point here, but what about me as a Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook user who sees an article on a news site and posts its “link”, am I now infringing as well????

    • http://www.delectablychic.com Cynthia

      And not to mention, don’t most newspapers have a FB share button (at least they do here in Canada)?

  • Iheke Ndukwe

    Mike, I’m going to try not to troll (because that isn’t useful to your readers). Basically, the analysis of the case provided above is bad (edit. v.bad). Don’t take my word for it – this is the internet age right? Information is free – rather than reading some BS news report about what the case is about see: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2010/3099.rtf or http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2010/3099.html
    This case, regrettably doesn’t fall neatly into the old media vs new media fight. It almost certainly doesn’t involve any free news aggregation services like Google News et al. Its about old media (that’s for sure) and how another satellite old media company (the good old press cutting providers – or as new web savvy types would call them “Curators”) and their attempts to bring their businesses into the internet age on the back of old licensing agreements that saw them doing business totally differently. Read the judgment – it is more than decipherable to lawyers and non-lawyers alike and approach the subject at least knowing what the debate is about. Mike, quit the scaremongering and link baiting.

    • http://www.patientsknowbest.com Mohammad Al-Ubaydli

      +10 this is so well written, thank you for sharing it. Also, I had no idea about this site and am quietly enjoying browsing through the judgements :-)

    • http://www.technollama.co.uk/ Andres

      Agreed, it’s inexcusable that Mike used a crappy an inaccurate Telegraph report.

  • http://www.youtube.com/blublumusica BluBluMusica

    The thing is, many European newspapers take news broken by blogs, or other newspapers, and even copy them, without ever citing sources, or linking, or anything. Who’s gonna stop that?
    The internet isn’t killing newspapers, just like TV didn’t kill newspapers.
    Newspapers are killing newspapers.

  • Raphael Caldas

    If this is true (I haven’t read Iheke’s link, yet), it is a horrible SEO move for the convalescent printed newspaper industry. They could easily choose their anchor text for backlinks, and they’re complaining about that?

  • http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~mak/blog/?p=235 Copyright and Headlines | Politics of Piracy

    […] the full article: http://eu.techcrunch.com/2010/11/27/high-court-ruling-implies-headlines-are-copyright-were-one-step-… This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the […]

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