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Opening Arguments

Hot flashes

Is there really such a thing as "hot news" anymore?

A case between the Associated Press and All Headline Newshttp://i.ixnp.com/images/v3.69/theme/silver/palette.gif); position: static; min-width: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; line-height: normal; background-color: transparent; font-style: normal; margin: 0px; min-height: 0px; padding-left: 0px; width: 14px; padding-right: 0px; display: inline; background-repeat: no-repeat; font-family: 'trebuchet ms', arial, helvetica, sans-serif; max-width: 2000px; background-position: -1128px 0px; float: none; height: 12px; visibility: visible; max-height: 2000px; vertical-align: top; top: auto; font-weight: normal; text-decoration: none; padding-top: 1px; left: auto; cssfloat: none; border: 0px;" src="http://i.ixnp.com/images/v3.69/t.gif" alt="" /> is moving forward based on a 90-year-old legal doctrine which may no longer be applicable in the Internet age. A federal judge ruled that the AP can sue AHN for stealing its “hot news.”

The AP alleges that AHN simply copies the AP's headlines and news without permission and without paying a syndication fee, and then resells those headlines and news stories as part of its own feeds with all AP accreditation stripped out.

If that is what happened, it does sound like pure theft. But rather than simply sue AHN for copyright infringement, the AP is also invoking the “hot news” doctrine, which treat news scoops as a form of property. Hot news is defined as time-sensitive news that is gathered at a cost, which a competitor then reproduces, free-riding on the original news-gathering organization's efforts.

Or, rather, does it stay hot long enough for its "time-sensitive" nature to really be worth anything? I frequently link (as do many others) to stories I see in other Indiana newspapers. Then AP will pick them up (as part of its contract with those papers) and distribute them to other papers, which will then print them a day or two after everybody in the blogosphere has already commented them to death.

More from the article:

But what constitutes “hot news” in an age of instant communications? And how long does it last. In 1918, “hot news” traveled by mail and telegraph. It could last hours or even days. Today, a true scoop lasts for about a minute. The AP would have to show instances of articles where not only the AP broke the news, but was the only outlet to get the original story—something rarer and rarer when anyone can publish news over the Internet.

It also raises some troubling questions. Is the AP going to start suing bloggers or news aggregators who take an AP headline and excerpt and rebroadcast it to the world, even with a proper link and attribution? And what happens when the AP is scooped by bloggers, which happens every day. Should bloggers sue the AP?


Michael B-P
Tue, 02/24/2009 - 10:06am

People taking cell phone video "on site" where newsworthy events are taking place and then emailing them to their own contacts is the first thing that comes to mind. The next is that someone at AP is getting bad legal advice and trying the shakedown approach to bottom line enhancement. They need to muzzle the lawyers and watch this:
and then take a walk and think a little more about new possibilities and less about dated judicial interpretation.