Monday, September 07, 2009

News aggregation as copyright infringement?

While Frank James of NPR gave a superficial account of the plagiarism issues with the Hartford Courant [ see
America's oldest newspaper apologizes for plagiarism
], Chris Powell, managing editor of the Journal Inquire, delved into the underlying rationale of "why" the Hartford Courant has been copying text from its smaller Connecticut rivals.

In the present case, "necessity" of copying has been driven by cuts in news room staff. [from Powell: "The Courant’s parent company, Tribune Co., is in bankruptcy because of a mistimed leveraged buyout, and the Courant has eliminated about half of its news staff over the last two years. (...) So the Courant has formally undertaken to appropriate wholesale the local news of its competitors in a practice politely called “aggregation,” a practice better understood as plagiarism and theft."]

During World War I, in the classic INS vs. AP case, the "necessity" arose because the INS organization of Hearst had been cut off from the primary news source because of unfavorable reporting of British troop losses. INS was put in a bad place because it reported the truth. The Courant does not have such a glowing rationale.

Powell also invokes copyright law. ["This also may be a violation of copyright law, since the “fair use” exception in the law, which allows brief quotation of copyrighted material to advance public discourse, has been construed much more narrowly than the Courant construes it." ] As noted many times on IPBiz, copyright infringement and plagariarism are NOT co-extensive. To the extent the Courant may be literally copying the copyrighted work of others, with or without attribution, there may be copyright issues. If it re-writes the text, but still utilizes the underlying news facts, one arrives at the issue present in INS v. AP.

Powell got into federal broadcast regulations against concentration of media ownership, specifically as to the combination of the Times Mirror’s newspapers with Tribune’s television stations. Powell criticized Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal; "Even in bankruptcy, Tribune is bigger than the attorney general. Will it prove bigger than copyright law too?"

**See also the IPBiz post

Allison Routman, Frank Zappa, and plagiarism
which includes:
One can even falsely claim authorship of public domain works (without violating federal law), as the Supreme Court held in Dastar v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

**See also

Fair Use Training Fare


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