The magazine obviously invested economic resources in the profile, which was written by a journalist who was embedded with the military. But once McChrystal's quotes appeared in print, they entered the public sphere. It's ludicrous to imagine that Rolling Stone could have prevented other media outlets from summarizing or quoting from the article had the magazine wanted to -- which it did not.
When one news publication breaks a big story, columnists, bloggers and reporters from other publications follow up on it. Often they add new details, but sometimes they only add commentary. And in some cases, they might not add anything new, but merely distribute the information to a wider audience.
Doing so might increase these other publications' audience, but it also serves the public. Many people who watch CNN or read The New York Times don't read Rolling Stone, and would have never known about McChrystal's remarks had they not been summarized or excerpted.
Nonetheless, a host of major newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, have just filed a legal brief with a federal appellate court arguing that, in some situations, publishers should be able to prevent their scoops from appearing on rivals' sites.
The brief was filed in an appeal of a lawsuit by three banks against the financial site TheFlyOnTheWall.com, which allegedly misappropriated the banks' hot news by publishing summaries of its stock recommendations early in the morning -- in some cases before the banks' clients had received the tips.
The newspapers say they're not taking a position on the particulars of the dispute. Rather, they want the appellate court to reiterate that publishers can obtain injunctions against companies who misappropriate so-called "hot news" -- or time-sensitive exclusives -- when those companies engage in "systematic, continuous and competitive republication" of others' content.
It's an odd argument for newspapers to make, considering how often they rewrite others' scoops. While they might deny doing so systematically or continuously, it's not at all clear that a court would agree.
Even more to the point, the very idea of time-sensitive information makes no sense in the Internet age. The minute news breaks, readers spread articles in real-time on Twitter and Facebook, meaning that newspapers have no realistic way of maintaining a monopoly on their so-called exclusives.
Nor should they want to. Hoarding the news certainly doesn't serve the public and, as a business model, it leaves quite a bit to be desired in the era where consumers can easily and instantaneously republish the articles they read.