Court rules “headlines are literary works”
In a judgment which will warm every sub’s cockles, the Court of Appeal yesterday confirmed an earlier ruling that headlines are “separate literary works” that, for purposes of copyright etc, should be considered independent of the story they sit on.
The court threw out an appeal by news parasite Meltwater, which provided a paid-for headline-scraping service to clients in the PR industry. The original action against the company had been brought by all the main Fleet Street newspaper groups, except News International, under the aegis of the Newspaper Licensing Agency, who successfully argued last year that Meltwater required a Web Database Licence (WDL) to aggregate and sell the list of spider-grabbed headlines, and that its customers required a Web End User Licence (WEUL) to use that information for commercial purposes.
Meltwater and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), a conglomeration of Meltwater subscribers, appealed against the original ruling by Proudman J. Meltwater at first contended it did not need a WDL to carry on its business, though it later relented and got one. One of the conditions of the WDL requires that the holding company’s customers each need a WEUL. The PRCA argued that no, they didn’t. Mrs Justice Proudman found against them, saying:
“The headlines are often striking and substantial, both in terms of content and in terms of length. They are not usually written by the journalists who write the underlying articles but by editorial staff whose specific functions include the composition of headlines. The ability to compose a headline is a valuable and discrete skill and courses exist to teach it. Headlines require skill in order to fulfil the objective of capturing the reader’s attention and inducing them to read the article. Thus a headline frequently has some emotional or sentimental ‘hook’, it may contain a pun, it may summarise the content of the article to which it relates. The process of final selection of a headline is separate from the selection of the article. Often a number of options will be proposed and the decision will be taken by a senior editor. Occasionally the article will be tailored to fit the headline.”
She also noted:
“…headlines involve considerable skill in devising and they are specifically designed to entice by informing the reader of the content of the article in an entertaining manner.”
These views were yesterday upheld by the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Andrew Morritt, with Lord Justice Jackson and Lord Justice Evans. Rejecting the PRCA’s argument that Meltwater customers fell into the category of those exempt from needing a WEUL – a group exempt for purposes of criticism – they said no such exemption applied, because Meltwater made no attempt to analyse or interpret the headlines it sent out.
The copies created on the end-user’s computer are the consequence of the end-user opening the email containing Meltwater News, searching the Meltwater website or accessing the Publisher’s website by clicking on the link provided by Meltwater.
The Lord Chancellor went on to praise Proudman J’s “clear, careful and comprehensive judgment”. Hear-hear!
It’s certainly cheering to know we subs have friends in high places in the judiciary. Just wish we had more of them in the newsrooms.
The full ruling is here. Note the ruling only applies to commercial users. It doesn’t apply to us impecunious amateur bloggers.