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News leech loses appeal on High Court copyright case

Attention scrapers: Headlines are copyright

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Commercial news parasite Meltwater has lost an appeal in the High Court against the newspaper industry. The company provided a commercial headline-scraping service to clients in PR and marketing agencies. But a landmark judgment in the High Court last November decreed that it would require a licence, ruling that newspaper story headlines were effectively separate literary works.

The Public Relations Consultants Association, formed from Meltwater customers, took the ruling to the High Court. There they were pitched against all the UK's major newspaper groups except News International, alongside the Newspaper Licensing Agency.

The Court of Appeal upheld the original ruling yesterday [here]. Headline aggregators will now require a licence – the cost of which will range from £58 to £500 per year. The ruling applies only to commercial operations; it won't affect individuals.

In an interview, David Pugh of the NLA said publishers can now be sure of fair royalties, and rival monitoring services can benefit from "a level playing field".

Claims of "fair dealing" were rejected by Lords Jackson and Elias. They rejected the PRCA's broad interpretation of the exemption, which is permitted for criticism, as Meltwater made no attempt to interpret or criticise the articles it scraped.

The Court of Appeal ruling upheld the view that "... headlines involve considerable skill in devising and they are specifically designed to entice by informing the reader of the content of the article in an entertaining manner."

Some "vivid" examples were cited in court by James Bromley, MD of Mail Online. Although we'll wager they're not as distinctive as this one (check the subhead especially).

Or this one.

Or this one.

Or this one.

Steal our headlines, and you steal our souls. ®

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