Reporting Or Theft?

from the interesting-legal-questions dept

Now here’s an interesting legal question. Is it reporting or is it theft when a news organization gets its hands on an early copy of a book and writes articles about the content. That’s exactly what happened with the Associated Press and Hilary Clinton’s new book. Simon & Schuster is now threatening to sue. The argument for “reporting” says that if you’ve obtained the book legally, and the story is newsworthy, then it’s their obligation to print it. The side arguing “theft” says that it’s an intellectual property violation. The article linked to above is an opinion piece and comes with clear biases towards the “theft” side. It rambles on about how the threat to intellectual property is an economic threat to the US – which is a tangent not worth bothering with right now. His argument is basically that the law needs to protect this business model, and the idea that the press might report on a story and harm a business model worries him. Of course, we do have freedom of the press in this country, and (last I checked) we live in a capitalistic society that doesn’t guarantee the “right” to a business model, so I have to side with the Associated Press who has the right to print their story. It’s not as though they republished the entire book – but just wrote a story about some of the topics in the book. That’s journalism. If that, alone, is going to harm the sales of the book, then I doubt that the book is very good anyway. It’s a business model issue of producing books that are well written and interesting and worth buying even if you know what they say, and has nothing to do with the “theft” of intellectual property.

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Comments on “Reporting Or Theft?”

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Saygin? says:

WSJ glosses the point

Further to Mike’s analysis, the author of this piece improperly applies the legal conclusions of Harper & Row’s suit against The Nation to this situation with the AP and Clinton’s publisher. There are many aspects that contributed to the ruling against the Nation, underscoring that fair use provisions are largely a case by case application of relevant law. Harper & Row prevailed because (among many other things) the court could not ignore “The Nation’s stated purpose of scooping the forthcoming hardcover and Time abstracts.” The court also found that The Nation did not merely convey the facts needed for a journalistic story on the memoirs, The Nation went on to “focus on the most expressive elements of the work.” That is, the Nation used the copyrightable expression of the idea, rather than the non-copyrightable idea. Finally, that case focused on the 13% of the work that was directly copied creating the pillar of the decision amounting to the “substantial amount” copied.

I point this out because these elements underscore how finely these matters must be dissected before one can apply a criticism of copyright infringement.

On the other hand, as long as this sloppy reasoning remains the stuff of our journalists and marketers – and not the stuff of our courts’s legal decisions – I can live with this fast and loose treatment of facts.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: AP vs Simon & Schuster

You gloss over the fact that the AP – no matter how they obtained the material – violated their agreement with S&S to embargo the story until the date of publication. Its not about reporting or copyright – its about ethics and contracts.

The article doesn’t discuss this point at all. If, in fact, there was a contract, this is a different story, and you’re right. However, the article in question seems to indicate this is a question of theft of intellectual property.

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