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Moneyweb articles picked apart in court

May 08 2015 16:22
Jenni Evans

Johannesburg - The complex permutations of copyright law were argued in the dispute between Moneyweb and Media24 in the High Court in Johannesburg on Friday.

More than a year and a half ago Moneyweb [JSE:MNY] launched this application against Fin24 for alleged plagiarism, copyright infringement and unfair competition.

Moneyweb, owned by the Caxton group, argues that Fin24, owned by Caxton's competitor Media24, used 7 of its articles unlawfully and offered it as its own. Fin24 has rejected these claims as patently false. The 7 articles were published between July 2012 and July 2013.

One of the seven articles in question concerned a property story about the sale of a castle in Hout Bay, written by journalist Micel Schnehage, who died of cancer before the case was heard.

Moneyweb hopes that the judge will order that Fin24 used some of its articles unlawfully, but Fin24's counsel has questioned whether Moneyweb held copyright over the substance of the articles in the first place.

In Schnehage's article on the castle, Media24's lawyer Cedric Puckrin SC said that if somebody died, copyright was assumed to rest with the deceased, unless it could be proven otherwise, which he said he would show.

He argued that her story was based on a press release by property company Sotheby's, possibly some information from Wikipedia, and a telephone call.

Taking the court through a paragraph by paragraph ''three-way'' comparison of the article in question, he said that firstly, words like ''including'' did not count when establishing originality, and individual letters were also not subject to copyright. 

He said there was no copyright in anything spoken, or in music, until it was written down or recorded.

Schnehage may have consulted an atlas to find the location, and spoken to Sotheby's Nina Smith on the telephone for a one line quote, but other than that she just  ''jumbled up the paragraphs'' to write her story.

In earlier argument, Puckrin had questioned whether ''sweat of the brow'' was enough to call work ''original''.

He said that one paragraph from Moneyweb's source, a Sotheby's announcement, read: ''The beautiful Western Cape village of Hout Bay boasts many remarkable homes, but none so eye-catching and well known as The Castle, situated high up against the Karbonkelberg mountainside overlooking the beach and the bay.''

The second and third paragraph of the Sotheby's release indicated it had been sold to a Russian buyer for R23m.

'Work is not original'

The Moneyweb intro read: ''A Russian businessman has bought a six-storey castle (pictured) nestled in the Karbonkelberg on the outskirts of Hout Bay in the Western Cape for R23 million.''

The Fin24 intro read: ''A picturesque six-story castle in Karbonkelberg, on the outskirts of Hout Bay has been sold to a Russian businessman for R23 million.''

Puckrin said: ''We will demonstrate that where there is a source, the work is not original, so [they] can never say [we] took a substantial part.

''The green [highlighted parts] in Ms Schnehage's Moneyweb article is sourced word for word from the Sotheby's press release.''

The words ''furniture and trimmings included in the deal'' was the only part of Moneyweb's article which was not in the Sotheby's press release, Puckrin claimed.

''Some of the grey [marked text] appears to be from Wikipedia.''

He said if Fin24 only took the parts that came from the Sotheby's release, the copying ''could never be substantial''.

''What I'm saying is it is not original, demonstrably. My Lord what we have taken, under no stretch of the imagination... can be a substantial part.''

He added that: ''The Copyright Act cannot be used as a muzzle to prevent the publication of trivial parts of the article.''

He said that journalist Kim Cloete in her contested article about MPs' salaries: ''Jumbled the words as Ms Schnehage did with the Sotheby's article and gave no attribution.''

The case continues.

moneyweb  |  media24  |  johannesburg ­  |  copyright  |  media
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