Here's what the US Copyright Office [copyright.gov] has to say about 'Fair Use' and thus why it may matter rather crucially to this whole scenario:
Whilst, as the text says, these are but examples, I don't see anything in there that says "search engine listings".
What would be useful here is a bit of insight into what recent legislation says about indexing by search engines and the reproduction of text in what we are referring to as 'snippets'. Anyone?
I believe that the position, as far as images results are concerned, is that copyright is not infringed as files are retrieved and stored temporarily. Further, I believe that in this regard the use of 'thumbnail' size images is acceptable, but nothing larger.
So, what about unique content. For news publishers headlines have a crucial part to play in attracting readers. They are, in effect, a unique selling point. So, what does that matter?
The US Copyright law offers four clear considerations for determining whether something is 'Fair Use'. These are:
I don't know about you, but in reading through that list I start to think that Murdock has something going for him!
1. Do search engines make money from their use of snippets? - Yes, it's their entire raison d'etre.
2. No idea how this applies. Anyone?
3. The headline is very important as is the standfirst - the introductory paragraph. Search engine snippets may show key facts or aspects from the story. Individually and combined, I'd say Murdock may have reason for being upset.
4. Well, you've read the snippet, what more do you need to know? What value then the story?
Put that into the hands of a top notch IP law firm, cite endless examples of the infringements, ensure you have deep pockets, and away you go. Of course, the usual disclaimer applies - I'm just a layman and haven't really got a clue about such matters.
Still, it looks kind of, well... head scratchingly interesting...