Hot News Doctrine Already Being Stretched; Company Says Its Contact Database Is Hot News
from the hot-news-needs-to-burn dept
In the last year, there’s been a sudden resurgence in interest in the concept of “hot news,” a doctrine that most people thought was dead and buried, which allowed a judicially-created form of intellectual property on factual information that was deemed to be “hot news.” There’s no statute that covers this. Just a court decision. And that was a century or so ago. But… the concept started showing back up in court recently, and in March a ruling came down, blocking a website from reporting on news for two hours, using this doctrine. With that on the books, other “hot news” lawsuits were quickly filed.
However, one such recent lawsuit seems to stretch the concept of hot news so far that you can only sit back and admire the audacity of including it in the lawsuit, while fearing the results should a court actually buy it. Thomas O’Toole has the details of what is likely to be a very interesting lawsuit on a few different factors, beyond just the hot news claim (but we’ll get to those other issues, so read on…).
The case apparently involves an employee at Goldman Sachs (or potentially multiple employees) who got the username and password of another account holder on a database put together by a company called Ipreo Networks, called “Bigdough.” Bigdough is apparently a database of contact info on 80,000 financial industry people. The Goldman Sachs employee(s) logged in with someone else’s username/password and downloaded a bunch of information.
This sort of thing happens all of the time. People share logins all of the time. Violating it is basically a terms of service violation, but here the company has broken out the big guns. Yes, it’s claiming that the contact info in its database represents “hot news,” and Goldman accessing it is a violation of the “hot news” doctrine. Think about that for a second. Contact information. “Hot news?” And, of course, the whole purpose of the “hot news” doctrine is about another publisher republishing the information — something that Goldman Sachs didn’t do here at all. The whole “hot news” claim here seems to stretch the (already questionable) concept way past the breaking point. Hopefully that part gets tossed quickly. Otherwise, imagine what else will suddenly be called “hot news.”
But that’s not all that’s interesting in this case. As O’Toole notes in his report, there are two other interesting legal questions, having to do with the use of someone else’s login. First, there’s the question of whether or not Goldman Sachs is liable here, even if the actions are just that of a rogue employee (or group of employees). O’Toole points out that the legal standard to get GS on the hook here is pretty damn high. The second question, of course, is whether or not just using a login that someone shared with you is a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). We recently discussed how there are also a growing series of cases trying to stretch the CFAA to make all sorts of activities classified as “unauthorized access.” CFAA was really designed as an anti-hacking law — which was about people really breaking in to a computer system. If someone simply shares their login credentials with you, does that really count as criminal hacking? If that’s the case, an awful lot of people may be guilty of doing so.
So, this should be a fun one to follow. Three separate interesting legal questions, and in all three cases, Ipreo appears to be trying to stretch the law beyond its intentions, so hopefully the court recognizes this. If you want to see the full filing, it’s below: