Citation. 248 U.S. 215, 39 S. Ct. 68, 63 L. Ed. 211,1918 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.
One news organization accuses another of appropriating news taken from bulletins and newspapers and using that information to make sales to clients.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Information contained in news is in the public domain and therefore cannot be subject to private ownership. But when a news organization makes a substantial expenditure in obtaining the news, they will be protected from having the information appropriated by a competitor.
The Associated Press (Complainant) is a news organization which gathers news of current and recent events and distributes it daily to its members for publication in their newspapers. International News Service (Defendant) also gathers and sells news to newspapers. In its bill, Complainant alleged that Defendant pirated its news by bribing employees of newspapers published by Complainant’s members to furnish the news to Defendant before publication, by inducing Complainant’s members to violate its by-laws and permit Defendant to obtain the news before publication, and by copying news from bulletin boards and early editions of Complainant’s newspapers and selling this news to Defendant’s customers.
Is there any property right in news? If there is property in news, does the right survive after the news is published in a paper? Does appropriating a rival news organization’s information amount to unfair trade competition?
As between the two news organizations, the news matter is quasi property because the parties seek to make profit from the information. But neither party has a property interest in the news as against the public because the news matter is not copyrighted.
When Defendant transmits news matter it got from Complainant after Complainant had published the information, they are taking material that has been acquired by the organization and the expenditure of labor, skill, and money. This material is salable by complainant for money, and Defendant is appropriating it and selling it as its own, thus endeavoring to reap where it has not sown. This is an unauthorized interference with the normal operation of complainant’s legitimate business. Defendant is attempting to divert a large portion of Complainant’s profit.
Publication of news is not abandonment of the news to the world. Publication is for the limited purpose of benefiting readers, not for making merchandise of the news.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. When uncopyrighted matter is published, there is no right to forbid others from repeating them. A person should not be prohibited from using words merely because someone has used them before. Defendants should only have been prohibited from publishing news obtained from Complainant for hours after publication unless express credit is given to Complainant.
Justice Louis D. Brandeis. An essential element of individual property is the legal right to exclude others from enjoying it. The fact that a product of the mind has cost its producer money and labor, and has a value for which others are willing to pay, is not sufficient to make it property. Competition is not unfair merely because the profits gained are unearned, even if made at a rival’s expense.
A property right can be found in an individual’s labor an investment, but that right can only be held against a competitor, not the general public.