Australian Judge Rules There Is No Copyright In Headlines

By Roy Greenslade: Australia’s federal court has ruled that there is no copyright in newspaper headlines.

The decision has far-reaching implications for publishers who are seeking to seal off their editorial content from people who do not pay for access to their online material.

The court dismissed a copyright claim by one of the country’s leading newspaper groups, Fairfax Media, over headlines in its title, the Australian Financial Review (AFR).

Judge Annabelle Bennett decided that publisher Reed International had not infringed copyright laws by reproducing the AFR’s headlines as part of its news abstracts on LexisNexis.

The court’s decision drives a hole through the paywall hopes of publishers seeking to protect content.

The AFR, under chief executive Michael Gill, has embraced an expensive but exclusive paid-content model.

He claimed that Reed’s summaries were intended to “substitute for the article for a very significant number of readers” and that Reed had breached copyright by its verbatim reproduction of some headlines and bylines.

But the judge ruled that none of the 10 headlines selected by Fairfax for the case “are capable of being literary works in which copyright can subsist”.

She noted: “Even if the article/headline combination constitutes copyright work, Reed does not take substantial part of such a work.

“Reed’s conduct in reproducing and communicating the AFR headlines as part of the abstracts is a fair dealing for the purpose of reporting news such that Reed’s conduct would not constitute an infringement of copyright.”

The case was brought against Reed in July 2007 and has been closely watched by media executives. LexisNexis supplies abstracts to corporate clients.

Marc Peter, its director of marketing and technology, said: “The decision is a positive step in re-enforcing the long-standing view of copyright law that there is no copyright protection for de minimis works, such as words, titles and advertising slogans.”

Gill described the judgment as “disappointing”, adding: “It is not consistent with what is necessary to protect intellectual property in the digital media environment… We are considering our appeal opportunities.”

Source: The Australian

This article originally appeared in © Guardian News & Media Ltd..