February 22, 2009 at 16:56 PM EST
Hot News: The AP Is Living In The Last Century
A case between the Associated Press and All Headline News 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's beef against AHN appears to have more merit than when it tried to go after bloggers for merely linking to its stories without changing the headlines. AHN itself sells news feeds and headlines to other Websites, newspapers, and digital signage companies. 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. Basically, the judge says the AP can try to prove AHN stole it's "hot news". 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.
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