Case law update: Copyright: News Updates

11-11-2011 10:41

Many businesses use e-mail alerts for their clients and customers to update them as to news stories or general matters which may be of interest to them.  A recent case in the Court of Appeal (The Newspaper Licensing Agency & Others v Meltwater Holding BV & Others) in respect of copyright infringement in newspaper headlines and articles by a news aggregation service may be of interest to such businesses.

The Newspaper Licensing Agency (“the NLA”) is the organisation responsible for managing copyright in its members’ newspaper articles.  It collects the fees on behalf of the member copyright owners and licences their copyright.  The Defendants (“Meltwater”) in this case are collectively a media monitoring service which distributed to its business customers copies of its online publication “Meltwater News”.

Meltwater used software to monitor news and other websites and then e-mailed the Meltwater News to its customers (for a fee).  The e-mails contained a hypertext link to the article as it featured on the copyright owners’ websites.  The e-mail would contain the headline of the article itself (as the hypertext link for the user to click on); the opening text of the article; and an extract of the text showing the search terms of the user in context.

The NLA took Meltwater to Court for copyright infringement.  Meltwater appealed the decision of the High Court but the Court of upheld the High Court’s decision as follows:

  • Importantly it held that headlines can attract copyright in their own right.
  • Some of the text sent out in the e-mail could amount to an infringement of copyright even if it was a small section of the overall article, and 
  • The end users of the e-mail had no defence to copyright infringement

This case was decided on the particular facts but businesses disseminating news stories to their own clients need to be careful in the future as to what rights they have to use the material they are passing on and also in what way they summarise or link to the information.

If you would like any more information on this subject, please contact Emma Hayward.

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