Expansive New Copyright Ruling Lets Companies Punish Reporting of Newsworthy Meetings

by Paul Alan Levy

In a decision that apparently expands copyright law far beyond its intended scope, a federal judge has held that a company (in this case, Swatch) that conducts a newsworthy conference with security analysts of its own choosing can register a copyright in its statements, by the simple device of recording the conference, and then bring an infringement action against someone (in this case, Bloomberg) who makes its own record of the statements and provides too much of those statements verbatim.

Bloomberg defends what it did as fair use, but just recognizing copyrightability makes the extraordinary remedies of the copyright code, including statutory damages as well as awards of attorney fees, available against news agencies that guess wrong about how much verbatim reporting is too much.

Another angle worth considering is whether the Boston police used the wrong methods to punish Simon Gilk for using his cell phone to video tape police conduct that he considered improper. Many bloggers have celebrated the First Circuit decision holding that the taping was protected by the First Amendment. So what would happen if the police announced a policy of recording everything they do? Then under the New York decision, the police could register a copyright in the recordings and sue others who made recordings for copyright infringement.