Say I read in the newspaper that a kangaroo shot a man on highway 45.

If I put this information on my homepage, and don't copy the exact wording of the newspaper, this is probably ok and not a violation of copyright or any other law.

But what if I read the newspaper every day, summarize facts from it, and sell this information?

It does not sound legal to me, but I would not know which law I am violating.

  • 6
    Note that news organizations regularly report on the reporting of other news orgs. Eg, "The WSJ is reporting that...". Especially if you include your own commentary (a rebuttal to slanted reports in whatever newspaper, for example), that would be completely unremarkable. Jul 29 at 3:12
  • In a lot of countries news cannot be copyrighted. Similar to how ideas cannot be copyrighted. However the news article is copyrighted - the limit of the copyright only covers the words of the article - not the facts of the news.
    – slebetman
    Jul 29 at 5:30
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    What do you believe are services like Morningbrew, who take news and cut them to a snippet, with a link to the full article in the end?
    – Trish
    Jul 29 at 9:26
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    I have a strong issue with the use of the word "stealing" here. That word applies to property law. Despite the propaganda term "intellectual property", words, ideas, and information in general are not property. The fact that this question was even asked likely shows how pernicious the idea of IP is.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 29 at 18:04
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    If you steal news and resell it on the black market, is it now counterfeit news, or maybe even fake news?
    – pipe
    Jul 30 at 22:01

3 Answers 3


Facts are not copyrightable

Facts are not copyrightable since at least Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991).

IF you take only the facts and not the expression, then the news site can do nothing: you do not violate copyright by taking only the facts. Or as Scotus said in Feist:

As a statutory matter, 17 U.S.C. § 101 does not afford protection from copying to a collection of facts that are selected, coordinated, and arranged in a way that utterly lacks originality.

News contain more than facts.

However, do note that news are not mere facts - like a phonebook as the Feist case was - but have their facts intricately entwined with expression. That's why press agencies like Reuters work: They get informed of facts, write an article and news sites buy that article's expression to refine it into their style. Most newspapers buy these articles, which leads to the appearance of nigh simultaneously reporting on the same event.

To understand where the line is between fact and expression, compare the following headlines from 24th March 1933, all regarding the same event:

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    I was going to counter your answer using the "Sweat of the Brow" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweat_of_the_brow doctrine. Thus, as a purely hypothetical example, having an AI reword all of the facts in a newspaper to a different expression would still run afoul of this doctrine. However, I accidentally paged down a few times on the Wikipedia article before posting and discovered that the Supreme Court has rejected this argument in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service. Jul 30 at 19:41

In , you have to consider the ancillary copyright for press publishers (Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger), specified in §§ 87f to 87h UrhG.

The publisher has the exclusive right to publish their news publication online. However, they explicitly cannot prevent you from

  • using facts from the news publication
  • linking to the news publication
  • using individual words or very short snippets from the news publication

So yes, it would probably be possible to create, publish, and sell such a news digest, as long as you avoid lifting quotes from the news publication. You should write everything in your own words.

In this context, you should review the history of the Leistungsschutzrecht, and in particular the role of Google Search and Google News. Many publishers that had advocated for this Leistungsschutzrecht ended up giving Google gratis licenses so that snippets/teasers could be shown in Google services. You would not benefit from such a license, and would have to be more careful.

Compared to the , Germany and Europe has more complicated copyright rules, with lots of ancillary rights that make a simple statement like "facts are not copyrightable" slightly incorrect. For example, facts are not copyrightable, but databases as collections of facts are. There's also a very low threshold of originality, so that even short text snippets must be assumed to be covered by copyright.

As to why copying news doesn't seem to be a common business model: it is reasonably common to report on something that was originally reported by another newspaper. However, there are practical downsides:

  • the news would be delayed
  • summarizing stuff in your own words is still a lot of work (though automation is arriving)
  • legal risks if you include snippets of the original
  • why would people read your summary if they can read the original?

At least for newspapers and similar press products, it is rare for journalists to write their own stories. Instead, a lot of news is licensed from news agencies, e.g. Reuters, Associated Press, or dpa. This syndication is cost-effective and avoids legal problems. The main value of a publication in that workflow is to select relevant stories and to maybe provide a bit of context for the audience. Reporting on others' stories is more common in areas that are more online and informal, for example tech news.

  • The time delay from the news appearing at DPA, Reuters or AP to local news is at times only "As fast as our own journalist can cut it to our style." - they rarely publish the exact same article but tinker with it a tad.
    – Trish
    Jul 29 at 9:20
  • I have come across the idea when reading local newspapers. They easily cost you 20 or 30 EUR a month and most people under 40 don't read them. They might subscribe to a mobile app for 5 EUR a month, though, that just summarizes important facts. Jul 29 at 9:24
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    @JFabianMeier The ‘90s called; they want their news aggregators back. (And you’d better respond quickly, because that’s the last decade in which they’re gonna pay you five bucks for the service.)
    – Sneftel
    Jul 29 at 10:30
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    @Sneftel You mean, no one wants news any more next decade? I mean, news don't fall from the sky. Jul 29 at 11:00
  • "why would people read your summary if they can read the original?" - yes, completely incomprehensible. For that matter, why would anyone read the newspapers' summaries of recent changes to laws, if they can just follow the full parliamentary readings and debates on each bill? Jul 29 at 12:15

In the United States, this would be a form of unfair competition. The law treats things that behave like property as if they were property. Early knowledge of news, gathered at great effort and expense, behaves like property and so courts treat it like property. If you use the property of another to harm them, courts may fashion equitable remedies.

See the Supreme Court's ruling in International News Service v. Associated Press, 248 U.S. 215 (1918) for a case of precisely this:

"The contention that the news is abandoned to the public for all purposes when published in the first newspaper is untenable. Abandonment is a question of intent, and the entire organization of the Associated Press negatives such a purpose. The cost of the service would be prohibitive if the reward were to be so limited. No single newspaper, no small group of newspapers, could sustain the expenditure. Indeed, it is one of the most obvious results of defendant's theory that, by permitting indiscriminate publication by anybody and everybody for purposes of profit in competition with the news-gatherer, it would render publication profitless, or so little profitable as in effect to cut off the service by rendering the cost prohibitive in comparison with the return. The practical needs and requirements of the business are reflected in complainant's bylaws which have been referred to. Their effect is that publication by each member must be deemed not by any means an abandonment of the news to the world for any and all purposes, but a publication for limited purposes; for the benefit of the readers of the bulletin or the newspaper as such; not for the purpose of making merchandise of it as news, with the result of depriving complainant's other members of their reasonable opportunity to obtain just returns for their expenditures."

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    That case is about the totality of the news report, not just the mere facts reported in it. However, news reports are very much intricately linked, making it nigh impossible to separate them at times.
    – Trish
    Jul 31 at 9:37
  • @Trish The ruling explicitly included information that cannot be copyrighted, was based on the cost to gather the news, and the cause of action was unfair competition. They explicitly ruled that it was necessary to protect the gathering of news by punishing those who would "steal" the fruits of that process. The fruits of gathering the news, the things acquired at great expense, are the facts reported. Jul 31 at 17:36
  • Not convinced. The "hot news" doctrine has been pushed by news publishers for decades and has never been very successful. The case in question is no longer good law. See Barclays Capital Inc. v. Theflyonthewall.com, Inc., 650 F.3d 876, 894 (2d Cir. 2011) (INS itself is no longer good law.) The status of similar claims is mixed.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 31 at 22:33

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