Dow Jones Sues Over Hot News

Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, last week sued over that Web site’s alleged misuse of content from Dow Jones’s financial newswire. charges a fee for access to its Web site. But the content apparently comes from content cut and pasted from Dow Jones Newswires. In some cases the content gets uploaded in as little as 3 minutes from the time Dow Jones originally publishes it – before the content even gets posted on the Wall Street Journal Web site. The use of “news” content presents a dilemma in the intellectual property world. No one can copyright information. It’s the presentation of the information that is typically protected. So I can’t copy a sportswriter’s column about a game, but I can relay the scores and highlights of the game itself. But what happens if I take this information routinely and systematically, and profit from it? That seems like free riding. That is, the copier profits from the investment of others. The “hot news” doctrine is a theory that was recognized in 1918. It treats “hot off the press” news as a product that is misappropriated when it is republished immediately for profit. Courts have adopted the theory where they see a threat to the original publisher’s ability to profit from its investment and effort in gathering the news in the first place. The 1918 case addressed a service that took content from the Associated Press and republished it as its own work. And that service was often able to get the AP content out in its papers in the Western United States before AP subscribers were able to. As a matter of federal common law, the US Supreme Court shut the practice down. And the no one talked much about the doctrine until recently, when various mainstream media outlets started trotting it out to deal with online aggregators. It will be interesting to see if this 92 year old precedent helps the traditional media ward off the threat from online competitors.