Judgment reserved in Moneyweb-Fin24 dispute

Johannesburg - Finance news website Moneyweb concluded its copyright court dispute with Media24 on Friday by insisting there was more to producing a story than just writing down information.

''It took special skill and effort," said Steven Budlender, occasionally glancing at the reporters in the public gallery of the High Court in Johannesburg.

He was submitting final reply for Moneyweb, after two days of argument over whether Media24's Fin24 breached its own rules by allegedly copying seven articles from Moneyweb.

Moneyweb is claiming damages from Fin24. The amount would be determined should the court find in Moneyweb’s favour.

Cedrick Puckrin SC, for Media24, submitted the seven articles in question were based on information already available, such as in press releases or the Government Gazette, that there had been attribution to Moneyweb, and that Fin24’s versions were significantly shorter.

'Not acted unlawfully'

He said Moneyweb had not established that the articles were original, because some of the information was said at press conferences, or quotes had been taken from a transcript of a radio interview. Fin24 had also sent its articles out after a delay, in an era where the internet provided news instantly.

''Even if my client had motive, we say it has not acted unlawfully,'' Puckrin said.

He said Moneyweb had itself copied articles from international sources and, said Puckrin, the Financial Times for example could bring a trademark claim against Moneyweb if it wanted.

Budlender disagreed. He said that in one of the stories, about Amplats, Moneyweb made the recording, and edited the transcript, making it a source created by Moneyweb.

He said the editor Ryk van Niekerk used ''considerable skill and effort to go through the transcript''.

Earlier it was reported that Puckrin submitted that Moneyweb writer Hilton Tarrant read a transcript of the interview with Amplats CEO Chris Griffith, selected quotes, and wrote a story.

On the sidelines of the case, Van Niekerk told News24 that he had written the story, not Tarrant, as Puckrin had submitted. He showed News24 an extract from court papers to support this, and said Tarrant conducted the radio interview.

'Originality is established'

Addressing the court, Budlender contended that the story on the castle in Hout Bay ''was not the greatest work'', but had required effort.

In the story about MPs’ salaries, journalist Kim Cloete had to contact the right person to ask for additional information, which took skill and effort.

Budlender said journalists went to a news event, or searched for a source. They took notes and prepared their articles from this work.

''We say originality, on these papers, ... is established.''

Although the sentences were rewritten on Fin24, the information came from Moneyweb.

''In this case there is no doubt that what was reproduced, was reproduced from our article. There was no fluke.''

Facts given at a press conference might be in the public domain, Budlender continued.

"A newspaper article is not only about the facts, it's about the way the facts are presented to the reader.''

Readership affected

Moneyweb's readership had been affected. Over 3 000 people read the McDonald's article on Moneyweb. The Fin24 article, released 15-and-a-half hours later, had over 16 000 hits.

''The point is Fin24 has profited, derived custom by copying our work," Budlender said.

“People who had searched McDonald's on Google would have found the two articles, instead of just the Moneyweb article. Fin24 profited and we lost out [on visitors].''

When both sides were finished, Acting Judge Daniel Berger said he would consider the arguments and thanked counsel for their submissions.

''I am going to have to reserve judgment and I will do my best to get it out as soon as possible,'' he said.

Philip Ginsburg SC submitted the main argument for Moneyweb.

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