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SPH, Yahoo in legal battle over news copyright

Local publishing giant Singapore Press Holdings has filed a copyright infringement suit against Yahoo, accusing it of reproducing its news content without permission.

SPH has cited 23 articles from its newspapers, saying they were “reproduced substantially” over a 12 month period without any authorisation, according to an article published in The Straits Times.

The articles were first published in The Straits Times, the New Paper and My Paper from November 16 last year to October 20 this year, and were re-produced on Yahoo’s Singapore news section, claimed SPH.

When asked for a response to the allegations and what its news strategy was going forward, a Yahoo spokesperson told Marketing: “We confirm that Singapore Press Holdings has commenced litigation against Yahoo! Southeast Asia Pte Ltd for alleged copyright infringement. This matter has been referred to our legal advisors and as such we are unable to comment further at this time.”

In an article published on its site, Yahoo’s Southeast Asian managing editor Alan Soon said that it would “vigorously defend” itself against the suit. “Our editorial business model of acquired, commissioned and original content is proven.”

SPH did not offer further details how the news was reproduced, if the re-production was done in entirety.

With more news content going digital, the case brings to question the dilemma for publishers and current copyright laws, at least locally.

In traditional media, copyright laws generally apply territorially. For instance, when someone infringes a copyright owner’s rights in Singapore, the owner may only sue in Singapore.

However, on the Internet, a single act of communication by uploading to a website may allow the work to accessed globally, making the administering of copyright in works substantially more complex, said Samuel Seow, managing director of Samuel Seow Law Corporation. Seow specialises in intellectual property law.

News content is regarded similarly to other literary works and may not be reproduced wholesale without consent or fair use. While reproducing work online is easier, it does not lessen the responsibility of the third party to seek consent before making such a reproduction, he adds.

“One thing to keep in mind is that copyright typically protects the form in which a work is laid out and not the underlying facts contained in the work.  So, for example, if yet another body is found in Bedok Reservoir today and is reported by ST in an article, the details of the story may be reproduced by a third party legitimately as long as the form of the story taken by ST is not reproduced,” Seow, said.

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