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 News Aggregators

News Aggregators – The rights and wrongs of linking

September 24, 2010

An increasing number of people are getting their news online rather than from newspapers, or television. Mobile devices, and the proliferation of wi-fi have made it easier than ever for the tech-savvy to stay on top of current events, but the move away from traditional media is considerable cause for concern for newsrooms around the world, some of which have had to shut up shop. In an attempt to stay afloat, news companies have devised new business models in order to remain competitive. Some, notably the Times, have introduced a paywall, requiring paid subscription to access content, and others have developed branded apps for mobile devices. The Guardian is a good example of a news organisation that saw the writing on the wall, and responded successfully to the challenging climate.

One of the more troubling trends in the eyes of traditional news providers is the increasing popularity of news aggregation. The fundamental nature of the Internet, and the introduction of web 2.0 technologies, mean that collecting content from a wide array of sources, and reproducing it in a single location – whether on a website, or through application software on a mobile device – is generally a straightforward task. This is problem for organisations that make money through advertising on their website, as surfers no longer need to visit their site to access their content.

Mark Cuban, an American entrepreneur, and Chairman of HDnet, could understandably be assumed to have been speaking the minds of many news organisations when he compared news aggregators to vampires: “The word that comes to mind is vampires. When you think about vampires, they just suck on your blood.”

Cuban also urged content providers to block Google News and other such aggregators from linking to their material.

However, while the news industry take on aggregators might be negative, users applaud the benefits they offer in terms of convenience.

So, what exactly are aggregators? The term has quite a broad meaning, and could loosely refer to almost any site that links to other content. They can be viewed as a sort of middleman, linking readers to news articles. However, the problem arises when these sites work as more than just a middleman, and aim to replace original sites. In The Rise of the News Aggregator: Legal Implications and Best Practices’, four different types of News Aggregators were identified: feed aggregators, which collect link to content from various websites in one location; speciality aggregators which bring together material about specific topics; user-driven aggregators which allow users to submit links; and blog aggregators which use third party content to create a blog.

News aggregators have been attacked as a principal cause of the difficulties faced by newspaper companies, and some have even gone so far as to bring legal action .

The New York Times has gone after the Pulse News Reader, an app offered through the Apple app store, resulting in its being pulled on the basis that it infringed their intellectual property rights. Counsel for the newspaper said “The Pulse News Reader app makes commercial use of the and RSS feeds, in violation of their Terms of Use. Thus, the use of our content is unlicensed. The app also frames the and websites in violation of their respective Terms of Use.” The app had previously been one of the most popular paid for apps on the iPad, and has since reappeared in the store.

Google has also come under fire. AFP, a news agency, brought a case against Google back in 2005. Google News had displayed a photo, headline and introductory section of one of their stories, and AFP claimed that Google was breaching their copyright by reproducing their content. AFP stated that “Without AFP’s authorisation, [the] defendant is continuously and willfully reproducing and publicly displaying AFP’s photograph, headlines and story leads on its Google News web pages.” Google successfully defended the case on the basis that AFP had failed to pinpoint the works which had been infringed, and that the headlines were uncopyrightable.

In light of their popularity, the question of the legality of aggregation services is increasingly important to News providers who claim that aggregators are damaging their business. Both Copyright law and, in the US, the “hot news” doctrine are relevant to the legality of these services.


Where content reproduced by news aggregators is found to attract copyright protection, to avoid infringement the use of the material may be argued to constitute fair dealing in the UK, or fair use in the US. There are several factors taken into account when assessing whether the use qualifies as fair, and depending on the jurisdiction these can include: whether the material is used commercially; the degree to which the material is original; the proportion of the material which is used; and the purpose for which the material is reproduced amongst others.

Hot News Misappropriation

Even where the material is found not to attract copyright protection, in the US the ‘hot news’ doctrine might offer grounds for legal action against news aggregators. This doctrine provides that news agencies may have a ‘quasi property’ right in their stories, in view of the ‘enterprise, organization, skill, labour and money’ that are required to gather news.

Overall, the legal position in relation to news aggregation services is unclear, but the legality of their operation is an important question, and particularly relevant in light of the economic difficulties faced by traditional news agencies in the internet age.