Meltwater is a digital news aggregator that summarizes news content for paying subscribers. All the subscriber has to do to access the digital “news clippings” is enter a search term on the Meltwater site. The site also allows the subscribers to store the selected excerpts as well as full articles in an archive that the subscriber can use for its own personal ends. Meltwater does not only offer access to AP news stories to its subscribers. It provides access to hundreds of other public sources as well.
AP went as far as calling Meltwater a parasite in the news distribution service arena that willfully exploits and copies the AP’s and other sources’ news articles for profit. AP finds it incredibly troubling that Meltwater competes with traditional news sources without paying any license fees to cover the costs of covering and reporting on the news stories in question. AP claims that Meltwater’s actions negatively effects AP’s ability to continue to provide high-quality news reportage. In the lawsuit, the AP is seeking to force Meltwater to cease its actions and to recover monetary damages.
UPDATED: According to Dan Purvis, Director of PR for Meltwater, the AP has it all wrong. He emailed me after the original publishing of this post on February 20, 2012 to clarify that Meltwater is a link aggregator more than a news aggregator (think SideReel but for news). In the email he said:
AP has shown that it does not understand our Meltwater News service. We do not provide copies of AP articles; instead we provide links to these articles. We only link to publicly available content and there is no content stored by us – instead, we provide an archive of search results with links to where the article was originally published online.What is also disappointing is that we found out about the lawsuit via the media. We would like to open a dialogue with AP, but they never made contact with us or asked us to take a license from them.
Furthermore, AP used DHS as an example of a client that has left AP for Meltwater. DHS is not, and have never been a client of Meltwater News.
It’s important to understand that we are not in the business of sharing content, but rather in the business of sharing the knowledge of the existence of online content. Therefore helping to drive traffic to these publisher’s sites. Our media statement in response to the AP suit also covers this here.
Meltwater is not the only entity providing news aggregation services. However, it is the only news aggregator being sued by the AP. The AP distinguishes Meltwater from other news aggregators that deliver AP news articles such as Yahoo! News and Google News by pointing out that Meltwater is the only one that does not pay AP a licensing fee for the AP content it delivers to its subscribers.
The AP insists that it is not attacking news aggregators in general, and it is not seeking to restrict news aggregators from providing links to AP news articles. The AP contends that Meltwater is different because its subscribers have to pay for its news aggregation services so it is not attempting to expand the reading public’s access to AP’s news stories. The AP also highlights Meltwater because it provides lengthier quotes of AP stories than other news aggregators. Also, Meltwater archives AP articles going back approximately five years. A lot of these articles are no longer available to the public on the internet.
This is not the AP’s first attempt to regulate access to its content on the internet. It recently received favorable rulings in lawsuits brought in the U.K. and Norway against Meltwater for copyright infringement. Those rulings should not be seen as a harbinger of what might happen in the U.S. action, though. The copyright laws of the U.K. and Norway are quite different from those of the U.S.
In sum, the AP sees Meltwater as a free loader that did not bear any of the costs of collecting and reporting the news stories but instead takes the finished product and redistributes it to paying customers.
Meltwater expressed surprise at the AP’s lawsuit, claiming that the AP misunderstands how Meltwater’s services operate. Meltwater invited the AP to enter into a dialogue with the news aggregator to discuss their differences. It does not appear likely that the AP will be taking Meltwater up on its offer anytime soon.