British company Ransquawk should pay Dow Jones $5 million for distributing summaries of its news stories online and via mobile apps, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein recommended in a report issued last week.
Gorenstein's report marks the latest development in Dow Jones “hot news” lawsuit against Ransquawk, initially filed by Dow Jones in January in federal court in Manhattan. Gorenstein's recommendations haven't yet been adopted by U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Furman.
Dow Jones alleged in its complaint that Ransquawk “systematically copies and retransmits verbatim, or nearly verbatim, content from the DJ Dominant news feed that was reported, written, and edited by journalists working for Dow Jones.”
Dow Jones publishes time-sensitive news on DJ Dominant before posting it on other properties, like WSJ.com or Barrons.com. On one occasion, Ransquawk allegedly sent users a “breaking news headline” about Twitter's initial public offering -- only two seconds after the item ran on one of Dow Jones' channels.
Dow Jones argued that Ransquawk's “free-riding” undermines the “economic incentive to invest in the costly process of reporting time-sensitive news.”
Ransquawk never appeared in court to contest the charges.
In May, Furman ordered Ransquawk to refrain from distributing Dow Jones' hot news before it appeared on MarketWatch.com, Barrons.com and other sites. Furman referred Dow Jones' request for damages to Gorenstein.
Dow Jones argued in court papers that $5 million would represent a “reasonable royalty” for Ransquawk's prior use of Dow Jones' material, which allegedly dates to last year.
The company added that it was difficult to calculate lost profits, given that it doesn't know whether Ransquawk diverted potential Dow Jones clients.
Gorenstein said Dow Jones was entitled to back royalties, as opposed to damages for lost profits -- which the judge said were too speculative to calculate. “The Court finds it appropriate here to award damages based on the reasonable royalty value -- that is, a fair licensing fee for the misappropriated hot news content,” he said.
Gorenstein accepted Dow Jones' estimate that a “fair" licensing fee would total at least $3.735 million a month, which the company calculated by multiplying its $249 monthly rate by Ransquawk's 15,000 estimated subscribers. Dow Jones alleged that Ransquawk misappropriated content for several months, but didn't seek more than $5 million in back royalties.