Ideas and the Public Domain: Revisiting INS v. AP in the Internet Age
New York University Journal of Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law, Vol. 1, p. 1, 2011
33 Pages Posted: 1 Jan 2012 Last revised: 31 Oct 2012
Date Written: February 2012
The integration of the Internet into all aspects of society has led to the quick and widespread distribution of information in digital form. This digital information can be easily aggregated and redistributed by third parties. Such information aggregators can free ride on the work of others. For example, Google News collects links to news stories from other news outlets. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media also enable redistribution of news stories and other information. Newspapers, wire services and other news creators and providers have voiced concern that such free riding allows aggregators to benefit from the work of enterprises that create news media without having to pay any of the costs to obtain such news stories. It has been asserted that free riding is unfair and that it can economically injure or destroy such enterprises. These concerns are reminiscent of the 1918 Supreme Court decision in International News Service v. Associated Press, in which a news organization successfully enjoined a competitor from free riding on its efforts to obtain news stories. The underlying basis for the Court’s decision was a federal common law action for misappropriation. Although a subsequent Supreme Court decision negated federal common law some states adopted the misappropriation doctrine from International News Service under state unfair competition law. This doctrine has been asserted with limited success but courts continue to hold that the doctrine is viable under appropriate facts. This Article will critically examine the International News Service decision and subsequent judicial decisions relying on the misappropriation doctrine. It will argue that International News Service has been misunderstood and misapplied; and, that courts should unequivocally repudiate the doctrine as inconsistent with property law. Additionally, the commonly asserted rationales for the doctrine — preventing free riding and ruinous competition — are not legitimate. Instead, any common law action to protect ideas or information should only succeed, if at all, under existing contract and tort causes of action.
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