International News Service v. Associated Press – 248 U.S. 215 (1918)

Case Name: International News Service v. Associated Press
Plaintiff: Associated Press
Defendant: International News Service
Citation: 248 U.S. 215 (1918)

Issue: Whether the plaintiff has a property right in the information it gathered for news.

Key Facts: INS was obtaining news that was gathered by the AP through public bulletin boards and early edition newspapers and then reproducing the news in their members’ newspapers without giving credit to the AP. Plaintiff contended that defendant’s practice constitutes unfair competition.
The AP contended that the news they gathered is property, because it costs money and labor to produce and because it has value for exchange. Also this news remains property and is entitled to protection as long as it has commercial value as news. The AP desired that the INS not be able to make any gainful use of their news while it retained its value as news.

Holding: Plaintiff does have a property right but it is limited and extends only against competitors in the news business.

Reasoning: Title to property is not absolute but relative. Because the news has “exchange value” based on its novelty and freshness, it should be protected as a property right with rules against misappropriation by a competitor.

Dissent: The dissenting opinion (Brandeis) did not believe news constituted property that could be protected. Also, that the defendant’s practices did not constitute unfair competition in the legal sense because the legal sense only addresses fraud or  force or doing of acts otherwise prohibited by law. The gathering of news by purchasing papers in the open market or from public bulletins did not involve breach of contract, fraud, or force. Also, the INS was under no contractual obligation to disclose the source of news and no law because the material was uncopyrighted.