Yahoo! Southeast Asia filed on Tuesday a memorandum of appearance with the courts to defend itself against allegations by Singapore Press Holdings that the digital media company had infringed on its copyright.
"We intend to vigorously defend ourselves against this suit," Yahoo! Southeast Asia managing editor Alan Soon said on Wednesday. "Our editorial business model of acquired, commissioned and original content is proven."
In its claim, SPH cited 23 articles which it alleged were reproduced from its stable of newspapers without permission. Yahoo! has denied the allegations in an earlier letter to SPH's lawyers.
Observers in the media industry however were divided in their opinions on the lawsuit.
Media consultant and former newspaper editor PN Balji said the legal suit has to be seen in the larger context of falling readership at The Straits Times. “The drop in readership, if not arrested quickly, will have a negative impact on its advertisement revenue,” he told Yahoo! Singapore.
He also referred to a case wherein MediaCorp had sued RecordTV over copyright infringement in 2007 after the latter, which operates a recording system in its website, allowed Internet users to request the recording of broadcast and films produced by the national broadcaster.
It was reported by Today that MediaCorp initially won the case in December 2009 through the High Court, but the judgement was overruled by the Court of Appeals, which stated that public interest was better provided by allowing, instead of repressing, RecordTV’s recording system, especially when MediaCorp did not suffer any loss due to this. Both sides eventually came to a confidential agreement.
On the other hand, Nanyang Technological University associate professor Cherian George, director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship, said the case raised important questions of professional ethics. He noted that how articles are attributed have been changing as a result of news aggregation.
“So there is an on-going debate internationally about what's the right way to make use of other sites' material,” he said.
He pointed out the case of a top American blogger Jim Romenesko who resigned from Poynter, a leading institute for journalism training, after running its blog for 12 years. Media reports said Romenesko’s resignation came after a dispute with the school’s director over improper attribution in his articles.
George said, “So, leaving aside the issues of intellectual property, intellectual honesty demands that articles drawing on others' work use quotation marks and links.”
Readers comment on lawsuit
Since news of the lawsuit broke out, Yahoo! readers have been furiously posting their thoughts on the comments section.
Among those who posted, reader Useblain said, “Perhaps the national paper is just unhappy about the amount of traffic that Yahoo! Singapore has been experiencing, and the chord it has struck with Singaporeans from all walks of life? Like, grow up, please.”
Another Yahoo! user Law65lee said the lawsuit could be one of the biggest and interesting cases of the decade.
“Two giant media companies locking horns on infringement of news issues. Must be one of the biggest and interesting suit of the decade. Both companies will not be find lacking of news feeds for the public which I think will be awaiting the big outcome,” it said.