Google and Twitter have teamed up to support a web site that’s facing legal trouble for reporting news too quickly.
Reuters reports that Google and Twitter filed a brief Monday in an appeals court case involving theflyonthewall.com, a web site that reports financial industry and stock market news. A U.S. District Court ruled earlier this year that theflyonthewall.com was using “systematic misappropriation” when reporting the details of big bank research reports — often before the bank’s clients saw the reports. Reuters explains:
However, in a filing with an appeals court late on Monday, Google and Twitter argued that in the age of Internet and instantaneous communication, banning of Theflyonthewall.com’s immediate news dissemination was “obsolete.”
“News reporting always has been a complex ecosystem, where what is ‘news’ is often driven by certain influential news organizations, with others republishing or broadcasting those facts — all to the benefit of the public,” the companies said in the filing.
Google and Twitter are obviously concerned about the legal ramifications should the courts decide that certain types of information can’t be freely reported online.
Postscript: What’s being debated here, to some degree, is the “Hot News Doctrine,” which dates back to 1918 and prevents the copying and publishing of news while it’s still timely. Google and Twitter are arguing that the doctrine is “obsolete” in today’s (modern) times. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also filed a brief in the case today. Says EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry:
It’s not hard to see how new and vital forms of social media could get caught in a ‘hot news’ dragnet. The court must ensure that this doctrine is not used to quash online commentary and information-sharing.
The Associated Press and several other major news industry companies (A.H. Belo, Time Inc., New York Times, Gannett, McClatchy, etc.) have also filed a brief today (PDF) in support of the Hot News Doctrine:
[The doctrine] recognizes that free-riders who have not invested in a journalistic infrastructure can always undersell news originators. Unless generalized free-riding on news originators’ efforts is restrained, originators will be unable to recover their costs of newsgathering and publication, the incentive to engage in the news business will be threatened, and the public will ultimately have fewer sources of original news.