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A news article (assuming no photo is used) is the description of an event. News agencies quickly send their journalists/reporters to the scene to write about the event.

If a news outlet re-writes the story based on what was reported by others, how can the original journalists claim copyright infringement?

In claims of copyright infringement of writing materials, the topic is usually the basis of the claim. For example, it is easy to claim that a novel has been re-written by someone else based on the story and characters. In the case of news articles, everyone can claim had the same observation as long as the wording is not similar.

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  • Maybe the answer is in the sources. Sources are important to news, because otherwise they're rumors, not news. So you either need a reporter at the scene, or you need to credit which (other) source you got the news from.
    – user54131
    Mar 10, 2022 at 18:17

3 Answers 3

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Copyright protects an arrangement of words, a "work", not the ideas behind that work. Even characters, while potentially protected by trademark, are not covered by copyright (though in a commercially published fiction of any consequence, especially one of a well-selling series or franchise, it's pretty likely the characters and some catch phrases will be trademarked -- don't try writing your own story around Mickey and Minny Mouse, or The Avengers!).

That said, news is about sources, as much as events; if your source is an article in another news outlet, you're writing at second (or worse) hand, and if you do this at all regularly, word will get out and consumers will buy from the agency with the originals, rather than the copies. New is also about timeliness, and if you write copies, they necessarily come out after the work you copied -- you got scooped!

In general, reputable news agencies will discipline employees who report this way -- and they'll catch them at it via fact-checking (a story needs to be verified against a reliable source before a major outlet will publish it).

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  • "Copyright protects an arrangement of words" How does that work with translations, for example? That would still be copyright infringement, right?
    – user54131
    Mar 10, 2022 at 18:48
  • Most translations are classed as "work for hire" where copyright remains with the hiring party -- that is, if I hire a translator to turn my American English novel into Japanese, copyright in America and Japan (assuming their copyright law works like ours) will still rest with me, the author and employer. Copyright term may be shorter in that case than the "75 years after my death" (last I checked), but I would still own the rights.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Mar 10, 2022 at 18:53
  • Translations are derivative works and one of the rights that copyright protects is the right to make a derivative work. See 17 USC 106 for th4 US law. Characters very much can be protected by copyright, and less often by trademark. When one uses specific distinctive traits or aspects of a well defiend character, that may also count as a derivative work., and so an infringement copyright See law.stackexchange.com/a/81691/17500 and law.stackexchange.com/a/78452/17500 Aug 8, 2022 at 8:32
  • Works for hire (WFH) have a 95-year copyright term in the US. Some translations are and some are not WFH, but all are derivative works.If the person arranging for the translation is the author of the source, obviously permission has been given. Aug 8, 2022 at 8:37
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Copyright attaches to a work by the act of publication, or sharing the work for the purpose of publication.

A newspapers/websites own their original stories. Those stories that they publish gain copyright protection.

If an organization reproduces other source articles verbatim and without permission, then they are at risk for legal action. That legal action is costly to pursue therefore it isn't often sought by newspapers/websites who believe their copyrights have been trespassed. That fact doesn't prevent everyone from doing this as it is a common practice for some web sites.

If the original story is quoted or summarized, and not reproduced verbatim, then it would be generally covered under "Fair Use" doctrine. But, fair use, was with copyright law, is not a precisely defining property. Many court cases have been unexpectedly won or loss based on the court's interpretation of the exact details of the case pertaining to fair use.

The definition of Fair Use and the letter of the law are one thing. The only true determinant are the decisions of courts in copyright cases. And courts are all over the map, making black and white declarations of what is and what isn't a violation a difficult subject in certain cases.

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  • "Copyright attaches to a work by the act of publication, or sharing the work for the purpose of publication." Not correct. Copyright attaches as soon as a work is "fixed in a tangible form" such as written down or in a computer file, whether it is published or not. That was true under the 1909 Copyright Act, but not since the 1976 Copyright Act in the US. Aug 8, 2022 at 8:42
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I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is copyright is about intellectual property. I created the idea, therefore I own it.

If a news outlet re-writes a story, they weren't there. They don't own the intellectual property. Somebody else does.

Why should I benefit from somebody else's work? If I re-write a novel using the same characters and story, I am stealing another person's ideas.

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  • That's exactly my point. If I re-write your novel, you can prove that you have written it first by referring to the story. If I re-write your news article, you cannot prove that I wrote it based on your writing or my own observation.
    – Googlebot
    Mar 10, 2022 at 18:24
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    You cannot copyright an idea, only the expression of an idea. A news agency can copyright an article describing a particular event, but that doesn't mean they have rights to any other description of the same event. A news agency cannot copyright the facts that they report on, only their tangible expression of those facts. A news agency that presents a firsthand report that "X occurred" cannot prevent other news agencies from reporting that fact, since facts cannot be copyrighted. Mar 10, 2022 at 18:35
  • "I created the idea, therefore I own it." That is noit correct. Copyright protects arrangements of words, images, and other expressions. It never protects ideas, see 17 USC 102 (b) " In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work." Aug 8, 2022 at 8:47

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