Briefing.com also took the unusual step of admitting liability for misappropriating Dow Jones' "hot news" by sending out its headlines. But, unlike a judicial finding of liability, the admission should not carry any weight in other lawsuits dealing with hot news because it came about as the result of a settlement agreement.
The agreement resolves a lawsuit filed in April by Dow Jones alleging that Briefing.com was infringing copyright by republishing significant portions of Dow Jones' news articles. The complaint alleged that between Jan. 29 and Feb. 12 alone, Briefing.com lifted parts of more than 100 articles.
Dow Jones also included the more controversial allegation that Briefing.com misappropriated Dow Jones' hot news, in part because the site allegedly systematically copied and redistributed Dow Jones' headlines.
Headlines, like facts, generally can't be copyrighted. But some news organizations argue that headlines can still be protected as hot news. In addition to Dow Jones, The Associated Press and Gatehouse Media recently sued other companies for allegedly summarizing time-sensitive stories; those cases both settled.
The concept dates to the early 1900s, when The Associated Press successfully sued a competing wire service for rewriting AP stories.
But some industry observers and Web companies, including Google and Twitter, argue that the doctrine is obsolete today, when Web users can easily share news stories instantaneously.
Some digital rights advocates also criticize the doctrine, arguing that orders banning companies from summarizing the news conflicts with free speech principles, which generally allow people to spread information that has already been made public.
But a few trial judges have held that the concept remains valid. Most recently, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote in New York found that the site TheFlyonthewall.com misappropriated banks' hot news by publishing summaries of their stock recommendations. She ordered the site to refrain from doing so before 10 a.m., but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the ban while it considers the site's appeal.