After Moneyweb: what next for News24?

2016-05-09 12:17
Adriaan Basson

Adriaan Basson

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After a drawn-out legal battle of over three years, the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday laid to rest the "extravagant" claim by rival publication Moneyweb that Fin24 had committed "systematic plagiarism on an industrial scale" of its content.

Nothing of the sort ever happened. In the words of Acting Judge Daniel Berger, Moneyweb’s claim in that regard, "is not supported by the facts and is simply designed to colour what should be a focused enquiry".

Ultimately, "On balance, the respondents (Media24) have been substantially more successful than the applicant (Moneyweb). I am of the view that it would be fair to order that Moneyweb pay 70% of the respondents’ costs," was the damning ruling by Berger at the end of his 65-page judgment.

The following striking facts were pointed out by the court:

- Between July 2012 and July 2013, Fin24 published more than 10 000 articles;

- During that period, only 11 articles sourced content from Moneyweb, including the seven articles that served before court;

- In addition to the eleven articles, 194 (of the 10 000+) articles contained content sourced from third parties that were not wire agencies;

- Only one of Fin24’s articles contravened the country’s copyright laws.

Although I wasn’t heading-up News24 when the case was initiated, I did participate in robust discussions with fellow editors in Media24 about the case. I did not enjoy fighting Moneyweb in court one bit.

I’d much rather we spend our time (and money) on creating good, probing journalism that holds all power to account.

Yes, this judgment has provided much-needed legal clarity on subjects like the benchmark for originality; what constitutes substantial reproduction and the need for hyperlinks in digital content.

But it is now up to the South African media fraternity to take the matter forward and attempt to agree on rules of engagement that will govern how we use one another’s content, whatever term one may choose to call that use. It is in my view preferable to set our own boundaries, based on tried and tested international principles, than to have to rely on the courts to do so based on individual cases presented to them.

Whether some may called it aggregation, the term itself is of little interest; let us rather agree on the rules of use of another’s content, and adhere to those rules. It is a key part of our digital future.

The New York Times does it. Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Business Insider have created entire business empires doing so too – often with content from traditional newspaper websites like The Gray Lady which they package and distribute better than the original publishers themselves. There is just no way we can (or should) stay behind, mindful at all times of the court’s findings.

Use of others' content is of course nothing new in journalism. When I was a cub reporter on a newspaper, my news editor called it "follow-ups". A rival newspaper had a story you didn't. After you received a scolding, you took the bare essentials from the story, made a few extra calls and wrote a "follow-up", always crediting the original source for breaking the story.

What has changed? In a digital era, a scoop doesn't remain a scoop for longer than a few minutes (or seconds). There is no follow-up the next day; it happens almost instantaneously. Now is the time to agree on some ground rules.

As the court points out, there is no copyright in the news itself. It is naïve to think that our competitors will ignore a big, breaking story originally produced by News24, just because News24 broke it first. The News24 team will apply the judgment when we report on breaking news from competitors’ platforms.

We are continuously reviewing our capacity to serve you, our readers, with quality journalism that is fast, deep and probing. Fin24 and News24 will continue to bring you breaking news first, increasingly unearthed by our growing team of digital journalists.

At this crucial juncture in our country’s history, we simply cannot be deterred from performing our primary function as journalists: telling the truth fearlessly, giving a voice to the voiceless and holding all power to account.

- Basson is editor of News24


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2019-05-22 20:27

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