10 Wake Forest Intell. Prop. L.J. 1
Thousands of hard copies of newspapers across the country—particularly editions of college newspapers—are reported pilfered each year. But just as the theft of print newspapers can occur at news racks, can online news stories that flow on the Internet also be stolen?
That question, as this article demonstrates, is no idle academic query or a wasted exercise in verbal gymnastics distinguishing newspapers from news and news stories. In fact, it is at the heart of some battles now being fought over news on the Internet.
In July 2009, the Associated Press settled for an undisclosed dollar amount a lawsuit asserting that, in layperson’s terms, its news content was being stolen by the All Headline News Corp. (hereinafter “AHN” or “All Headline News”). The AP alleged in its January 2008 complaint that “AHN has no reporters and is simply a vehicle for copying news reports and misappropriating news gathered and reported by real news services such as AP.” As such, the AP asserted that AHN was “free-riding on AP’s significant and costly efforts to collect, report and transmit newsworthy information,” thereby creating a low-cost news service with “no journalistic infrastructure” that “directly competes with AP’s own news services.” In Associated Press v. All Headline News Corp., the AP successfully reached back in time and stretched a ninety-one-year-old precedent—one developed many decades before the Internet enabled the type of appropriation engaged in by AHN—found in the United States Supreme Court’s opinion in International News Service v. Associated Press.
Part I of this article analyzes the case of Associated Press v. All Headline News Corp., tracing it from the filing of the complaint through the July 2009 settlement. Importantly, it uses the actual pleadings and briefs filed by the parties, as well as other background information about the parties, to better contextualize the story behind the case. Part II then explores the legal precedent underlying the hot news misappropriation theory that was at issue in the case, as well as some of the criticisms and comments that legal scholars have launched against it over the years. Next, Part III goes beyond a pure legal analysis to explore the potential implications of the hot news misappropriation doctrine for a digital culture in which freshness and up-to-the-minute information is privileged and prized. Part III also identifies the different interests at stake in cases like Associated Press v. All Headline News Corp. Finally, Part IV concludes by suggesting future avenues of research related to the conduct of companies such as All Headline News Corp., including analyzing their behavior from an ethical perspective, not simply a legal one. In brief, journalism ethicists should analyze both the case and hot news doctrine from their viewpoint and position.