Hot News Is Back: Court Blocks Website From Reporting The News
from the first-amendment? dept
In the last few years, there’s been a push by some companies to bring back the immensely troubling “hot news doctrine,” that appears to violate everything we know about the First Amendment and copyright law. Basically, the “hot news doctrine” says that if someone reports on a story, others are not allowed to report on their reporting for some period of time — on the theory that it somehow undermines the incentive to do that original reporting. Last year, we wrote about the very troubling implications of allowing the hot news concept to stand. Beyond the free speech implications, it also has the troubling quality of effectively creating a copyright on facts — which are quite clearly not covered by copyright. On top of that, it’s not necessary in the slightest. As anyone who is actually in the online news business knows, getting a scoop gets you traffic — even if others report the same thing minutes later. Being first gets you the attention. You don’t need to artificially block others from reporting the news.
Unfortunately, with various publications struggling, some have picked up on the hot news doctrine as a way to somehow block competition. Tragically, it looks like a court has now adopted the hot news doctrine in one case. Paul Alan Levy alerts us to the news that a judge issuing an injunction against TheFlyOnTheWall.com, a website that would publish summaries of Wall Street research. The Wall Street firms said this undermined their business model — and the court agreed. It passed an injunction saying that TheFlyOnTheWall had to hold off publishing any news about any Wall Street research report until either 10am (if the report is released early in the morning) or for two hours after it’s released if it comes out during the day.
These totally arbitrary restrictions are highly troubling from a free speech standpoint and seem effectively random. This seems like yet another case of a company being upset by interference with its business model, which should be a reason to change the business model — not run to the courts.
But what’s most troubling of all is that now all the publishers who have been salivating over the hot news doctrine have a legal ruling to point to. Can you imagine how the world would work if you couldn’t blog about or mention a particular piece of news for a few hours because the Associated Press got to it first? It’s hard to see how this could possibly stand up to a First Amendment analysis, and it’s quite troubling that the judge found the way she did.