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Not to beat a dead horse, but yesterday’s ruling by a U.S. District Judge Denise Cote is a great example of why the fair use doctrine is so complicated, and widely misunderstood. The case is Associated Press v. Meltwater News, No. 1:12-cv-01087-DLC (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2013). Meltwater provides a private subscription service, which involves the scanning of news sites for stories relevant to their clients, and then delivering the results in the form of short excerpts from—and with links to—the original articles. The AP claimed the search results infringed its copyrights in the news articles, while Meltwater argued that the service was a non-infringing fair use. The court granted summary judgment for the AP.

The primary reason that this decision gives pause is that the subject matter of the alleged infringing content is largely factual. (NB: As a general rule, facts are not copyrightable.) Indeed, EFF called the ruling “troubling,” and referred to the court’s fair use analysis as “worrisome in at least three respects.” EFF’s blog provides a great (and brief) analysis of the substance of the ruling, which is worth reading if you have any interest in copyright law. According to the EFF article, Meltwater is considering an appeal to the Second Circuit, which in my opinion is a good idea. The court’s 91-page decision is here (PDF).