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News-Press wins ruling against Independent: Summary judgment granted in copyright infringement

July 4, 2008 11:01 AM

A federal judge ruled in favor of the Santa Barbara News-Press in a copyright infringement case against the weekly Independent which published, via its Web site, News-Press material without permission.

The summary judgment was handed down Monday by the Hon. Edward Rafeedie of the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, in Los Angeles.

At issue was the weekly's linking to an electronic version of what's become known as the "draft article" about summer 2006 resignations from the News-Press written by a then-News-Press reporter.

"In newspaper cases it's very rare that you find copyright infringement is granted by a judge," said News-Press attorney Stanton "Larry" Stein, who heads the Entertainment and Media department at Santa Monica-based Dreier Stein & Kahan LLP. "We're delighted that we got that result."

The story in question was written by a News-Press employee but never published by the paper; however, a verbatim version soon appeared on the weekly's Web site -- and the News-Press filed suit.

Among the defenses offered by the Independent was a doctrine known as fair use. In deciding that argument, the court has four things to consider: whether the use of a copyrighted work is commercial in nature or for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the work itself; the amount of the work used compared to the copyrighted work as a whole; and how the use of the copyrighted material would affect the market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The judge found that, in this case, all four factors weigh against fair use, and therefore granted the News-Press motion.

As part of its defense the weekly also said its posting of the entire draft article was "transformative," that is it gave new expression or meaning to the original, for the purpose of allowing its readers to evaluate its criticism of the News-Press.

But the judge said the Independent could have commented -- and let the public evaluate its comments -- by employing the same approach as the student newspaper at UCSB: summarizing the article's content and selecting particular quotes from the draft article, without publishing it in its entirety.

"The court therefore finds that (the Independent) used more than was necessary to accomplish its transformative purpose."

Judge Rafeedie also found that, since the Independent publishes for profit, using the draft article was for a commercial purpose, and went beyond fair use.



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