A Game of Thrones: Is Meltwater Attempting to Overthrow the AP as Content King?

A Game of Thrones: Is Meltwater Attempting to Overthrow the AP as Content King?

If you've read Game of Thrones or watched it on HBO, then you're probably aware of the general theme, which can be summarized in a single sentence from the book: "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die."

The AP has long held the content throne, but an usurper - Meltwater - has come to challenge the content king. Meltwater - an aggregator or a search engine, depending on your kingly allegiance - is a media monitoring service that displays AP headlines and textual snippets to its users. In a recent copyright lawsuit, the AP attacked Meltwater's unlicensed display of AP content.

Agitation by Aggregation

The AP's complaint alleges:

AP bears all of the extensive costs associated with creating its content, while Meltwater bears only the minimal costs of distribution in the Internet age, and thus can undercut the AP with lower subscription rates. ...  Meltwater contributes no creative content and provides no editorial commentary. Its business serves no independent purpose other than the distribution of news created by others.

....

In contrast to the practice of other news sources and news aggegators who deliver the AP's news reports to the public, Meltwater does not license the content that it delivers to its subscribers. Google News, Yahoo News, and AOL, for example, have negotiated arrangements with AP to distribute its content. Further, unlike Google News or other news aggregators that deliver search results to the public for free, Meltwater is a closed commercial business that only provides news excerpts and other services after payment of a substantial annual fee.

(emphasis added)

The AP was founded in 1846, and as the king, it has invested substantial resources in building a news gathering and distribution infrastructure. To support its activities, the AP licenses its content to subscribers and other customers.  

"Searching" for a Defense

In contrast to the AP, Meltwater, which was founded in 2001, employs neither reporters nor newsgatherers but, rather, helps its customers acquire (insert "search" or "aggregate") third-party news items published on the Internet. As the usurper, Meltwater lists its mission statement as:

The Meltwater Group enters growth markets where new technology enables outsiders to challenge existing business models and market leaders sleeping in class.

(emphasis added)

In its April 6th answer, Meltwater asserted:

... The Associated Press ("AP") challenges one of the core functions of the Internet. Search engines, which index online content and provide information about its existence and location in response to users' search queries, have existed since the earliest days of the Internet and are essential to its operation. Meltwater offers just such a search engine, which allows its corporate and institutional customers to discovery [sic], analyze, and educate others about information in the news media relevant to their businesses. The search results that Meltwater returns to its users-headlines of articles, along with a short snippet of text, and a link to the complete article hosted on the publisher's website-comprise the same basic information returned by numerous other Internet search services. Meltwater's news-specific search engine operates fully within the bounds of U.S. copyright law.

(emphasis added)

A Game of Thrones

Will Meltwater win or die? Likely, that question hinges on the news aggregator vs. search engine distinction. Defining Meltwater as one or the other could be the difference between the AP's continued sovereignty and Meltwater's liberation of content. 

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