A Brief on Briefing.com

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New York – Recently, Dow Jones filed a law suit against Briefing.com which may draw upon a precedent set in the injunction against TheFlyonTheWall.com. Dow Jones general Counsel Mark H. Jackson accused Briefing.com of “brazenly taking a free ride on the reputation of [Dow Jones’] publications and on the investment Dow Jones makes in quality, [and] real-time journalism”.  The lawsuit will raise the same issues discussed in the injunction against TheFlyonTheWall.com, namely first amendment rights (an issue which TheFlyonTheWall.com apparently never directly raised in their lawsuit) and the infringement that misappropriation of “Hot News” has on copyright law.

Back in March, Integrity wrote about the TheFlyonTheWall.com and how a recent injunction against publishing stock rating changes immediately after they were released had endangered the livelihood of the website.  At the time, there was a debate as to whether Barclays, Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill lynch and Morgan Stanley (the banks responsible for the lawsuit against TheFlyonTheWall.com) were simply going after the service with the smallest funds to defend itself in order to set a precedent for future cases, or whether they simply objected to TheFlyonTheWall.com specifically for its particular practices.  Some felt that the larger services such as Bloomberg and Reuters would not raise the ire of the banks for redistributing stock rating changes because they were institutional services and thus basically served as purveyors of free advertisements for the research teams at the banks.

One difference between the two cases may actually come in the way that the two services come across the information which they republish.  Since a 2005 court ruling which awarded minor damages to Barclays and Morgan Stanley for copyright infringement, TheFlyonTheWall.com actually changed its practices so that it no longer reproduces, paraphrases, or even reads the research reports that come out from the banks, but rather uses a variety of other methods such as checking other news sites (Dow Jones and Briefing.com actually being two of them), visiting specialized chat rooms, reading ‘blast IMs’ or personal emails, and telephone calls with contacts.  The lawsuit against Briefing.com however alleges that “Briefing.com regularly and without permission republishes its news, often verbatim”.  In one two week period, Dow Jones accuses Briefing.com of copying 70 headlines and a considerable portion of 100 articles within three minutes of publication.

What’s particularly interesting about this case is that Dow Jones is potentially one of the services which the banks could go after next in terms of redistributing “Hot News” and if they win the lawsuit against Briefing.com they could be helping to set a precedent which could come back and hurt them in the end.  As for TheFlyonTheWall.com, as recently as April 14th, the news was that the injunction could force them out of business unless it is lifted soon.  The full legal ramifications of the different cases are complex, but perhaps the best summary of them all comes from a post in late March on the Citizen Media Law Project by Sam Bayard which can be found here.

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