At about the same time that Microsoft announced it's selling off Slate.com, it also launched the beta-version of MSN NewsBot
. The Newsbot is basically a Google News clone. So, they're betting publishing hotlinked headlines to content sites is more profitable than actually publishing the content itself.
Should publishers of original content balk at this? You can certainly stop MSN Newsbot or Google or many others from linking to your site and/or caching pages, but then you risk losing a potentially invaluable traffic source. If you're able to monetize the eyeballs that the headline aggregators send you, then fine.
However, as the law firm of Levine Sullivan, Koch & Schultz pointed out in their May 2004 memo to NEPA
members, aggregators (such as bloggers, digest newsletters, and search engine news services) can be prosecuted for profiting off of others' hot news stories. It's based on a WWI-era Supreme Court ruling where an AP scoop was copied by a competitor deemed to be "appropriating to itself the harvest of those who have sown." The Court said others can't free-ride on someone else's original content if this hurts the originator's economic viability.
So there's lots of grey area - and as Google and MSN announce how much cash they are making from selling ads against other publishers' headlines, I think we're gonna see some legal rumblings....