International News Service (INS) was unable to report on the war in Europe due to prohibitions enacted by foreign governments. Consequently INS pirated the Associated Press's (AP) newspaper by
- bribing the respondent’s employees to furnish AP news before publication,
- inducing the AP member to violate by-laws and permit the appellant to get news prior to publication,
- copying news from bulletin boards and early editions of the respondent’s newspapers.
The appellate court upheld an injunction against the appellant on grounds that the appellant’s actions constituted unfair competition in trade.
- Is there property in news?
- Does published news become common property when published?
The reasoning was largely economic, centered around the need to sustain incentives to engage in news-making. As a result the court held that there is a quasi-property interest in news due to the commercial realities of its production. AP's labour is a valuable commodity, and INS is benefiting from it for free. Additionally each party is under a duty to conduct its own business so as not to unnecessarily or unfairly injure that of the other party. It is necessary to distinguish the substance of the information in news from the particular form it is communicated in; the facts themselves contain no property interest, however the expression of the idea does give rights to the owner.
While there is property in the literary aspects of a news story, there is no property in the facts except as between competitors. However, there is quasi-property to the extent necessary to prevent unfair competition.