Yahoo! Southeast Asia filed its defence and counterclaim against Singapore Press Holdings with the High Court on Tuesday, denying all allegations of wrongful copyright infringement by SPH.
In its defence, Yahoo! SEA highlighted the fundamental principle that copyright law does not protect facts and information and that the public has the right to be informed of news and current events in Singapore.
The internet company also filed a counterclaim which alleges that on at least two known occasions over the last year, SPH had itself substantially reproduced Yahoo! content on its citizen-journalism site STOMP.
On 18 Nov, SPH filed a copyright infringement suit against Yahoo!, citing as examples 23 articles which it alleged the internet company had reproduced from its stable of newspapers without permission.
SPH operates 18 newspapers titles in four languages. The publicly-held company, which also operates non-media assets such as property and retail, charges S$26.65 a month for access to the online version of its flagship The Straits Times newspaper. Its daily print version costs 90 cents.
Yahoo! provides free local and international news coverage to anyone with access to the internet.
The landmark case, which has attracted global media attention, pits a traditional media owner against a new media company and is believed to be the first of its kind in Singapore.
Cherian George, a media scholar, said, “Going by its media statement, it seems that Yahoo! isn't claiming that the 23 contested stories resulted from its own original reporting, or denying that SPH was the source of its facts and information. Facts can't be copyrighted, but the way the facts are presented can be. So the case might hinge on whether Yahoo! used its own words in re-telling the facts, or whether it cut corners and copied content in a parasitical fashion.”
However, P N Balji, a media consultant who writes occasionally for Yahoo!, said, “The case is turning out to be a clash of two business models -- on one side is the old media represented by SPH, whose newspapers' content is produced at some cost to the company. It charges for that content. That model is under some threat with the print giant reporting a drop of $1.9 million in circulation revenue in the last financial year.
“Some of the eyeballs must be going to free websites like Yahoo! and SPH wants to protect its turf and stop that flow,” he noted. "On the other hand, free news websites like Yahoo! operate a business model that combines a strategy of riding on content by established media companies like SPH and on its small number of reporters who work on self-generated stories.”
Both industry experts also took note of Yahoo!’s counter-claim.
“If, as Yahoo! counter-claims, SPH's STOMP website was guilty of lifting content from Yahoo!, then the real story here could be the lax standards of big online news sites – whether they're run by traditional media or new media companies. In general, they don't generate sufficient revenue to justify hiring enough experienced and able journalists,” said George.
"A twist in the tale is Yahoo!'s claim that SPH's free website, STOMP, has used the online giant's content without consent. This case, if it goes through the full court proceedings, will bring some clarity to the messy business of how content from one source should be used by another," said Balji.
SPH has declined to comment on the matter.