Saturday, December 1, 2012

International News Service v. Associated Press case brief

International News Service v. Associated Press
Property Law Case Brief

Copyright/Property of the News.

Case Overview:

Associated Press (P) sued to enjoin International News Service (D) from improperly obtaining and distributing news for profit.

Case Facts:

-Associated Press (“AP”) was an organization that engages in the gathering and sale of news. Its membership consisted of about 950 daily newspapers from across the United States.
-Each member contributed news to and received news from AP. In this way, AP provided each member with nationwide news.
-The terms of membership AP prohibited members from disclosing news to non-members. International News Service (“INS”) was a competing organization with a membership of about 400 daily newspapers.
-INS had engaged in the unauthorized distribution of news gathered by AP by (1) bribing employees of AP newspapers to disclose their news before publication, (2) persuading AP newspapers themselves to disclose such news, and (3) gleaning AP news from public bulletin boards and transmitting that news to INS members for publication.
-AP conceded that none of its news stories fell under copyright protection.

(1) May one hold a property right over news?
(2) If such a right exists, does the right end with the publication of the news?
(3) Does the conduct of INS constitute unfair competition?

(1) One has no property right over the news itself, in the sense of those events that give rise to published reports.
(2) The right to publish news generally forbids competing news organizations from profiting from that news.
(3) INS engaged in unfair competition.

First, one must distinguish “news” in the sense of published reports from the events that give rise to those reports. Only the former receives protection under the law, as no one may claim ownership rights over newsworthy events themselves. Second, the right to distribute news depends on the nature of the distributor. In general, a newspaper cannot prevent an individual reader from disseminating that news to others as long as such dissemination does not interfere with the business of the newspaper itself. A different situation arises, however, when the distributor is a competing news organization. When INS gleans AP news from bulletin boards and distributes that news through its own channels, it diverts a portion of AP’s profits to itself. Such conduct amounts to unfair competition. The courts should therefore apply “quasi-property” rights to news, so that a news organization may not benefit inequitably from news gathered by a competitor.

Dissenting Opinion:
The news consists of combinations of words. It would be unfair to deny someone the use of a particular combination of words even if some other party had spent effort thinking it up. The problem should be solved by imposing a delay on the publication of INS news and requiring INS to acknowledge AP as the source of that news.

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