Few traditional publishers like aggregators. They never have, and they never will. The problem: consumers do.

While publishers have made a fuss about aggregators for years, for the most part, there has been little they can do. And for all of their efforts, aggregation, in all of its various forms, isn’t going anywhere. But a lawsuit filed by Dow Jones & Company could signal a tougher fight ahead if Dow Jones wins.

The target of the Dow Jones lawsuit: Briefing.com. Briefing.com operates a paid service that provides subscribers with financial news and information. It also syndicates its content “through our partnerships with virtually every leading online financial site and
brokerage firm
.”

According to Dow Jones, however, “Briefing.com has been brazenly taking a free ride” by misappropriating headlines and articles distributed through the Dow Jones Newswires. In one exhibit of its complaint, Dow Jones details Briefing.com articles that share headlines and article content with articles it originally published. In some cases, the headlines and content appear to have been lifted verbatim. According to Dow Jones, the alleged content theft is widespread:

In just one two-week period, Briefing.com copied a substantial portion
of at least 100 articles and republished more than 70 headlines within
three minutes of the initial publication on Dow Jones Newswires.

Given this, it’s no surprise that Dow Jones is claiming copyright infringement and ‘hot news‘ misappropriation. And based on some of the examples Dow Jones highlighted in its complaint, it seems that the company just might have a decent argument.

The question, of course, is whether the Dow Jones lawsuit signals a stronger effort on the part of publishers to pursue entities involved in some forms of aggregation, especially those that are more aggressive. While hot news misappropriation is not a new legal concept, its application in the digital era has remained uncertain.

More recently, publishers seem to be pushing for a broader application of it in the online context. Last month, a District Court judge ruled against the website Theflyonthewall.com in a case brought by a trio of financial services firms. At issue: whether Theflyonthewall.com had engaged in copyright infringement and hot news misappropriation by publishing information contained in investment
reports produced by the firms before they were officially released and the stock markets opened. The District Court found for the plaintiffs on both the copyright infringement and hot news misappropriation claims.

That case is on appeal, and while it remains to be seen whether or not courts will embrace hot news misappropriation claims, one thing is clear: publishers aren’t giving up and aggressive aggregators should probably be aware of that.

Photo credit: Stacirl via Flickr.