SA media copyright case heard in court

The copyright battle between Moneyweb and Media24 over several articles started in the High Court in Johannesburg on Thursday, with Moneyweb’s counsel explaining why it was important to protect the work of its journalists.

Acting Judge Jonathan Berger, known for taking on human rights cases in the Constitutional Court, heard Moneyweb’s counsel Philip Ginsberg explain whether Media24 copied news stories produced by Moneyweb on its website.

Moneyweb submitted that Media24 ”come nowhere close” to showing that the latter’s use of the articles was ”fair use” and that they should not escape the consequences of their alleged copying.

”By and large, what they have taken is the essential feature of the articles by Moneyweb,” said Ginsburg.

”We say not only have they taken too much quantity here, but too much quality.”

He said Media24 was entitled to have its own business model, but it had violated its own policy on aggregation – the practice of modifying or shortening an article from another source and using it on a website.

He said Media24 subsidiary 24.com is an aggregator which searches for articles on the internet and put them together for publication, but it was hard to tell whether the company was ”riding on the coat tails” of others.

The company’s aggregation policy stated that no more than 30% of original content should be used and that the copy must be rewritten.

”We do not complain about their business model, obviously it is the world of internet journalism, but it is the way they practice,” said Ginsberg.

”In each and every case they have used far in excess of 30%.”

He rejected Media24’s belief that sending a journalist to each news event is impossible, outdated, and would result in less news at a slower pace.

It has said that to operate like this would be to ”deliver today’s news next week”, a situation where no modern business would survive. More news could be covered by aggregation.

”But what if the reporter gets it wrong?” asked Ginsburg.

Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk and News24.com editor-in-chief Andrew Trench were in court for the case.

He said the internet publication Legal Brief’s business model was an acceptable model because it only gave a short taste of the subject, attributed clearly and linked back to the source of story.

”It is just a taste. But when you have read a Fin24 article, and as the click through rates show, you don’t need to read the other article.”

Earlier, Media24’s lawyers wanted sections of Moneyweb’s heads of argument, and affidavits by a number of editors opposed to Media24’s aggregation practice, struck out.

An affidavit by Charmain Naidoo, general manager of the Times Media Group was read, and in it, Naidoo said that she would not permit journalists in that company to use articles in the way Media24 does, as it was against fair use principles.

Ginsburg moved on to the definition of ”originality” in terms of the Copyright Act, after Media24 submitted in its court papers that simply writing up what a newsmaker said, was not original work, and so not protected by copyright.

An affidavit by well-known journalist Kim Cloete was read out, in which she said she had written an article that Media24 has said is not completely original, and that she attended the press briefing, took notes, asked supplementary questions and wrote her own unique article.

”So it’s not just a bald statement of I wrote an original statement,” said Ginsburg.

The case continues.

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SA media copyright case heard in court