AP Settles Copyright Suit Involving ‘Hot News’ Doctrine

July 15, 2009

The Associated Press will collect undisclosed damages as part of a settlement of its lawsuit against All Headline News, a site that copied AP stories online without permission.

The AP considered the lawsuit an important test of the “hot news” doctrine, which was established in a 1918 Supreme Court case involving the news service. The principle holds that while facts cannot be copyrighted, media organizations can sue when competitors copy time-sensitive news.

A judge ruled in February, over All Headline News’ objections, that the principle was still valid. The settlement was announced Monday.

The AP sued All Headline News in 2008, saying it copied AP stories from Web sites that legitimately carried them and then redistributed them, competing for the AP’s customers.

AHN Media Corp., the company behind All Headline News, acknowledged improperly using AP content and agreed to stop, according to a joint release from the companies. A lawyer for AHN Media and its CEO, W. Jeffrey Brown, both declined to comment further.

The AP said it is “pleased to have successfully resolved the litigation through a principled settlement.”

The case against AHN was one of several ways that the AP, a 163-year-old not-for-profit cooperative, owned by member newspapers, has been fighting misuse of its content online.

It brought a similar case against Moreover Technologies Inc. and its parent company, VeriSign Inc., in 2007, accusing Moreover of using AP headlines, photos and stories without permission. That case centered on the “fair use” doctrine of copyright law, which allows quoting from copyright-protected material but not the reproduction of whole works. Moreover settled the case on undisclosed terms.

Last week the AP said it would pursue a technological measure it hopes will improve copyright protection: It called on news organizations to tag their online stories with instructions for search engines and other Web sites. These tags would include copyright restrictions, among other information, but could not actually enforce those rules

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