A LONG legal dispute between several Slovak publishers and an agency that monitors the news on behalf of clients has an initial victor. At the beginning of January the Bratislava Regional Court confirmed the verdict of the lower-level district court which had ruled that the Storin news monitoring agency did not violate Slovakia’s copyright law when it used articles from the publishers’ newspapers to prepare its monitoring reports.
“The court has pronouncedly confirmed that copying articles can be the subject of business activities without any consequences,” stated Lucia Menkeová, the attorney representing the publishers, as quoted by the Hospodárske Noviny daily, adding that she believes the ruling sets a
Four of Slovakia’s largest publishers, Ecopress, Perex, Petit Press (the publisher of The Slovak Spectator) and Ringier, filed a lawsuit against Storin in 2006 claiming that the firm had unlawfully collected and then sold content from their newspapers without their approval since 2003. The suit claimed damages exceeding Sk5 million (about €166,000), according to the Medialne.sk website.
The district and regional courts ruled that even though newspaper articles are based to some degree on creativity, they can be categorised as ‘daily news’, which is not protected by Slovak copyright law.
“It is victory of law over lawlessness,” said Oľga Cimová, co-owner of Storin, as quoted by Hospodárske Noviny, adding that the ruling is a comprehensive assessment of how Slovakia’s copyright law applies to media monitoring activities.
The Sme daily reported that Storin, a company that provides media monitoring to various businesses, NGOs and government offices, has a current contract with the Finance Ministry to supply the ministry with all articles in which Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš is mentioned as well as articles with financial themes. Sme wrote that the annual cost for these services is €24,000, including preparation of additional analyses and ministry access to the company’s media archive.
Pavol Múdry, the Slovak chair of the International Press Institute (IPI), said that Slovak copyright law does not reflect the spirit of similar legislation in other parts of Europe, stating that there is a difference in definition and interpretation of the phrase “daily news”. Múdry noted that the term in many other European countries means "official information", i.e. information supplied by government institutions, while the term in Slovakia is understood as news reporting of any kind. Múdry stated that he believes all news stories, whether they appear in newspaper, radio, television or on newswires, were prepared by a reporter who should be considered the author under copyright law.
”The news is not written by itself, so there is a contribution by an author,” Múdry told The Slovak Spectator.
Menkeová, of the law firm Rowan Legal, speaking on behalf of Ecopress, said that the courts had incorrectly interpreted Slovakia’s copyright law and opined that the ruling interferes with publishers’ rights that are guaranteed by the Slovak Constitution. Sme reported that Ecopress has appealed the regional court’s ruling to the Slovak Supreme Court.
Other publishers and news reporters also made critical comments on the court's ruling and the practice of media monitoring, with some of them comparing it to stealing a product and then selling it in a different form to customers.
“The decision of the court degrades creative journalistic work and allows anyone to behave as a parasite on the fruits of this work and to appropriate it without payment,” said Peter Kubínyi, the chair of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists, as quoted by Hospodárske Noviny.
Ľubomír Šimášek, director of the Newton Media monitoring agency, told Hospodárske Noviny that Storin won the court case because the [Slovak] copyright law is “full of holes” and added that his company seeks to conform to European Union standards. Šimášek told Sme that his company had secured licensing agreements with publishers but refused to comment on how much the licences cost.
Múdry, who said he has been dealing with copyright issues for news articles for 15 years, told The Slovak Spectator that based on the regional court’s decision anyone can engage in business by using the work of journalists and he considers this to be wrong.
Cimová told Sme that the publishers do not care about protection of authors’ copyright but rather are concerned about what she termed ‘unfair competition’, saying that the criticism is based on the publishers’ failure to dominate the monitoring services market.
According to Múdry, publishers have been discussing changes in Slovakia’s copyright law that would protect the authors of news articles with several ministers of culture, the government ministry with jurisdiction on this issue, but that the talks ended only with empty promises.
Though Múdry does not expect the government or an MP to propose an amendment to Slovakia’s copyright law before the March parliamentary elections, he told The Slovak Spectator that it would be “enough to emphasise that newspapers, newswires, radio and TV news comprise a database sui generis and cannot be copied or monitored without publishers’ consent”. The concept of legal protection of databases as intellectual property, the so-called European database right, was introduced in 1996 by Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and the Council.
16. Jan 2012 at 0:00 | By Peter Bagin