A federal district judge in New York City has ruled that a news-scraping service committed copyright infringement by reusing portions of articles from the Associated Press. The Denver Post reports that Judge Denise Cote ruled in favor of the AP in its case against Meltwater US Holdings, Inc. Meltwater offers a paid service for customers that would like to track when they're mentioned in the press. Meltwater provided customers with the first portion of the article — which usually contains the basic facts and premise being discussed — followed by a short excerpt.

Judge Cote disagreed with the fair-use argument

Meltwater had argued that its service was covered under fair use: basically, that it operated much like a search engine by providing access to specific kinds of information, and repackaging that information for its customers was transformative enough to steer clear of any infringement claims. Judge Cote disagreed, pointing out that Meltwater had little in common with search engines as they're commonly thought of. In fact, a Meltwater executive testified in a deposition that a click-through rate of just 0.05 percent would be consistent with the company's expectations for its service. Cote also noted that the AP offers licenses for its content — licenses that some of Meltwater's competitors pay. By repurposing AP content without paying, Cote writes, "Meltwater not only deprives AP of a licensing fee in an established market for AP's work, but also cheapens the value of AP's work."

Meltwater CEO Jorn Lyseggen told the Post that the company would be appealing, but if the decision stands it has the potential to affect similar cases down the line. In a statement, AP CEO Gary Pruitt seemed to relish just such a possibility. "For years all of us have been hearing that if it is free on the Internet, it is free for the taking," he said. "That's what Meltwater argued. The judge in this case just rejected that argument."