SA Copyright Act outdated for online news

How journalists compile their articles came under the spotlight on Friday as Media24’s lawyers argued that Moneyweb had not shown that its work was ”original” in a copyright battle between the two in the High Court in Johannesburg.

Honing in on a story by writer Hilton Tarrant, based on a radio interview Moneyweb had with AngloPlats CEO Chris Griffiths in January 2013, Media24’s counsel Cedrick Puckrin SC said Moneyweb had not proven that there was skill and effort required in compiling the article.

”There is a sound recording and a transcript is made of that. With respect, there can be no originality of the transcript, because it is a copy of what Griffiths was saying,” said Puckrin in the controversial case.

Moneyweb has taken Media24 to court alleging that it copied at least seven of its articles, which it had spent time and money and which had required skill to compile and that Fin24 had violated its own aggregation policies. Aggregation is when a summary of an article from another source is posted with a link to the source.

In its submission Moneyweb alleged that Fin24 “by and large have taken essential features of its articles – not only too much quantity, but too much quality”.

Moneyweb wants the court to rule that this was unlawful, that the articles be taken down, and that damages, to be decided at a later date, be awarded. Media24 has countered by questioning whether the work was actually “original”, and whether Moneyweb had shown this.

Puckrin submitted that Tarrant had simply selected quotes from the transcript for his interview, and Moneyweb had not shown that this was original work, or that Media24 had used the substance of the work.

He read extracts from the affidavits of Moneyweb journalists whose work was allegedly copied by Fin24, which, one by one said their articles were ”original work and required skill and expertise to write” or ”these articles are an original work and required my independent effort, skill and expertise to write”.

Tarrant said in his affidavit: ”I used the transcription of the sound recording to source the quotes from Mr Griffith. He doesn’t even say, ‘skill and expertise’,” said Puckrin.

He said Tarrant’s work was that of an ”amanuensis” – somebody who copies down artistic or literary work – and that there was no originality or copyright in the quotes themselves.

Perhaps the selection of the quotes held originality, but Moneyweb had not shown this in its application, said Puckrin.

”This is where a man has a transcript where there is no copyright, but used skill to select quotes. How do you know what skill is? He just says he used the transcript to source quotes.

”There can be little originality, skill, necessary in ‘looking at Mr Griffiths’s quotes and putting it in copy’.”

Puckrin commented that ”this isn’t prose that is going to win a Pulitzer prize. It’s not enough to say I used skill. Your Lordship must judge that.”

He said Moneyweb had not shown how long the transcript was, or what criteria was used to make a selection.

”With respect, there has been much hullabaloo about this case and it has been said that this case will set the course of online journalism.

”We say this is a case where originality and substantiality has not been proven.”

In the article in question, Fin24 used a file image, provided a hyperlink, and some information from its archive.

On Thursday Puckrin said that the Copyright Act of 1978, which the case is based on, was outdated for the era of online news.

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SA Copyright Act outdated for online news