• U.S.

The Press: Property & Pirates

3 minute read

During the War the British Government closed its mails & cables to Hearst newshawks, charging distorted reports of the Battle of Jutland. France and Canada followed suit. Forced into catch-as-catch-can methods of gathering War news, Publisher William Randolph Hearst stooped to rough-&-tumble. In Cleveland a telegraph editor on an Associated Press paper was found who, for a price, would smuggle AP news from abroad to Hearst’s International News Service. Many another spy was similarly subsidized. The AP secured an injunction forbidding INS to pirate AP news.

The case went to the U. S. Supreme Court which (Holmes & McKenna dissenting) upheld the Associated Press. That decision, the Press has fondly believed, established for all time its property right to news. Last week a Federal district judge in Seattle, sitting in an obscure case, rudely upset that cherished notion.

Again the Associated Press was plaintiff, this time against radio station KVOS in Bellingham, Wash. The station, owned by a Scotsman named Rogan Jones, had been helping itself to AP news in the Seattle Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Bellingham Herald, broadcasting it thrice a day as “The Newspaper of the Air.” AP obtained a temporary restraining order, wanted it made into a permanent injunction. It cited not only the Supreme Court decision, but also a 1933 case in Sioux Falls, S. Dak. where a Federal judge enjoined a radio station from lifting AP news, with the opinion that property rights in news endured for 24 hours after publication. Last week Federal Judge John C. Bowen in Seattle dismissed the Bellingham action, giving reasons well calculated to outrage every newspaper publisher in the land.

Denying that the Supreme Court accorded AP an absolute property right to its news, Judge Bowen declared: “When news has been published in a regular issue of complainant’s member newspapers

. . . such news reports from that moment belong to the public, including the defendant [KVOS] and all others who may desire to use them . . . except for sale by a rival news agency. . . . The mere fact that the defendant disseminates gratuitously those news reports as a part of its radio service . . . does not involve the pirating by one newsgathering and distributing agency of news reports of another such agency, as in the case of the AP v. INS.”

Not even Radio took seriously the enormous implications of Judge Bowen’s decision, which would give it final victory in the war of Ink v. Air. Watchful Editor & Publisher shouted characteristic alarums, but individual newsmen were confident that higher courts would reverse the Bowen decision.

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