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Each Sunday, I publish the Inbound Marketing Inquirer – my weekly newsletter. It contains the Tip Jar, which is content that is a subscriber-only benefit that I don’t usually publish. This week is an exception for two reasons. First, I like to give a periodic preview of what I include in my newsletter. Second, the subject matter is important to me as an inbound marketing professional and concerned digital citizen.

Welcome to this week’s Inbound Marketing Inquirer. The Tip Jar disects a court decision last week in the copyright battle between the Associated Press and Meltwater U.S. Most of my newsletters contain objective, tutorial-style advice. This week’s is basically an opinion piece about copyright law and fair use (with a connection to social media marketing).

The Court Case

open accessOn 21-March, a U.S. District Court (Southern District of New York) sided with the Associated Press and the New York Times in a closely-watched case involving a company that scraped news content from the internet without paying for it. If you’re not familiar with Meltwater, one of the products they offer is Meltwater News – a service that “keeps track of breaking news about your company, competitors and industry with online media monitoring.” They scrape news stories and notify clients when their brand name is mentioned. The notifications include the headline, lede paragraph and sentence that includes the brand mention.

The Associated Press wants Meltwater to pay a license for this content. They allege that Meltwater is violating copyright law by scraping and repurposing their content. Meltwater argues that what they are doing is perfectly consistent with fair use. This week, the judge agreed with the Associated Press.

My Analysis (and Opinion)

Sigh. You’d think after all of these years the publishing industry would start to get it. They remind me of the Japanese holdouts who continued to fight World War II three decades after it was over.

The problem here is that judges still don’t understand the big picture and are not properly evaluating the fourth test; the effect on the work’s value. I would argue that Meltwater’s service INCREASES the work’s value because it increases its discoverability and, therefore, the likelihood that the work will be read and possibly licensed. The companies using Meltwater’s service would never and will never pay the AP for a license to access its content. They frankly don’t care about the creative genius of the lede or any of the nuanced opinion or value-add from its author. They really only care about one thing – sentiment. And sentiment usually boils down to a binary disposition of positive or negative. That’s what Meltwater’s customers are interested in. They want to know the quantity and disposition of brand mentions.

The fact that the article mentions comparing click-through rates to search engines is a dead giveaway of their ignorance. It shows that AP is still fixated on eyeballs instead of mindshare. Frankly, if AP had enough guts and vision, they would have created the Meltwater News product themselves many years ago. Instead, they were afraid of cannibalizing their golden goose. But as Steve Jobs said, “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.”

As someone in the content marketing business, I am not unsympathetic to having your work ripped off. I understand there is a balance that needs to be struck between protecting people’s work and lubricating the free speech machine. However, at the moment the content creators (the RIAA in particular) hold way too much of the power.

One last thing that bothered me was the judge’s decision that the AP performs an “essential function of democracy.” Who has done more for democracy over the past two years? The AP or Twitter? In my mind it’s debatable.

Stay Informed

The audience for this newsletter is comprised mostly of other Internet marketers. My hope is that you all (especially those in the U.S.) become more aware of the assualt on fair use and Internet freedom being waged by the Recording Industry Association of America. If you are concerned, as I am, about protecting free speech and Internet freedom – which are both essential elements of inbound marketing – please visit and subscribe to theElectronic Frontier Foundation. Of course, you can also follow my Twitter and Facebookfeeds where I share important news and developments on this front!

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