For a few years now, we've been covering the troubling return of the "hot news"
doctrine. This is a non-copyright concept that was mostly considered dead and buried, but was suddenly revived a few years ago. Technically, it's still considered "law" in New York, and it involves the idea that there's some sort of "protection" in news, such that others can't re-report the news that others have reported if it's "too soon." Under basic copyright, of course, facts are not copyrightable, so it's always been considered fair game to repeat factual news information (so long as you're not copying specific expression). The whole hot news concept had basically become defunct before the Associated Press brought it back up in a lawsuit about five years ago. Of course, there are all sorts of troubling implications
of creating a new form of intellectual property such as "hot news" -- especially in an age of Twitter, Facebook and other methods of sharing news and information. Already, some have sought to stretch
the definition of hot news. So far, thankfully, most recent hot news lawsuits have failed in court
, though many seem to end in "settlements."
One of the "settled" cases
was brought by Dow Jones a few years ago, and apparently the company has decided to try again. It has filed a hot news lawsuit against a company
almost no one has heard of (until Dow Jones just gave them a ton of free publicity), Ransquawk.
In Dow Jones' initial cease and desist letter
, it claimed that Ransquawk violated its copyrights, but apparently the lawyers at Dow Jones finally figured out how copyright works and realized that wasn't true. The lawsuit only makes use of the hot news concept.
In its defense, Ransquawk explained to Dow Jones that it does not have an account from Dow Jones' DJX service, which Dow Jones says Ransquawk is illegally copying, but rather that it finds the information from Twitter, Dow Jones reporters themselves and various other services
who often share the same headlines. Since Ransquawk is a UK company, it also rejects the copyright claims, pointing out that news reporting is considered fair dealing under UK law.
The actual lawsuit makes some brazen claims:
How does Ransquawk provide such a popular service? Its business model is as simple as it is illegal: Ransquawk's audio and text services are based on the systematic unauthorized reproduction and redistribution of news content published by Dow Jones, and undoubtedly other news content providers as well.
But, again, repeating a news headline is not illegal
. The complaint also insists that Ransquawk is lying in claiming that it's obtaining the news from other sources, noting that sometimes Ransquawk is repeating the DJX news within five seconds, which suggests it has access to a direct feed, despite denying it. It's entirely possible that someone
is violating DJX's terms of service, to allow Ransquawk to have access to the feed, but that's a completely different matter than hot news.
While Ransquawk may follow in the footsteps of others and settle this case to be done with it, this remains a really stupid move by Dow Jones -- a company that quite frequently has its own staff repeating and sharing news first reported elsewhere. It's not difficult to see how any precedent Dow Jones might set with this lawsuit will almost certainly come back to bite them when others realize that Dow Jones does the same exact thing. News is news: it's factual and sharing the news is just a part of how the world works today. Rather than freaking out about it, Dow Jones should focus on adding the kind of additional value that it claims to add, such that mere headlines from Ransquawk won't make a difference. Seriously, if the only value that Dow Jones provides is somehow "misappropriated" by Ransquawk then it makes me think that Dow Jones really doesn't provide much value at all.