Yahoo! Countersues SPH, Denies Copyright Allegations (BT)

BackDec 14, 2011

[SINGAPORE] Yahoo! Southeast Asia has countersued Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) in a landmark copyright infringement dispute, alleging that the newspaper group used three Yahoo! works without permission.

In filings with the Singapore High Court yesterday, the Internet portal also denied SPH's claims that Yahoo! had systematically reproduced works owned by SPH.

Invoking the "fair dealing" defence, Yahoo! said any use of those works on its website was allowed because they were reporting factual current events; their use did not have significant impact on SPH's business; and attempts to license the work had been terminated by SPH.

"The company denies all allegations of wrongful copyright infringement by SPH," Yahoo! said in a statement.

"Amongst other things, Yahoo! Southeast Asia highlighted the fundamental principle that copyright law does not protect facts and information. In addition, there is an important public interest issue in respect of the right of the public to be informed of news and current events in Singapore."

SPH, which owns The Business Times, has not responded to the new filings, and has until Dec 28 to do so.

Yahoo! said in its counterclaim that in October 2010 and 2011, the SPH-run citizen journalism website Stomp used two articles and a photograph which were copyrighted and owned by Yahoo! even though Stomp was not licensed to do so.

SPH on Nov 18 sued Yahoo! for copyright infringement, setting up an unprecedented clash of traditional and new media titans in the Singapore courts.

SPH said in its claim that Yahoo! has knowingly reproduced substantial portions of SPH content on Yahoo! news websites without permission to "derive a commercial benefit". SPH cited as examples 23 alleged articles that had been reproduced on Yahoo! websites over the course of one year.

SPH wants the court to stop Yahoo! from further unlicensed use of SPH content and to pay damages.

In yesterday's filings, Yahoo! said that the SPH-owned works in dispute are not copyrightable because they comprise facts and information, and disseminating such current events outside of SPH's paywall is in the public interest.

Yahoo! had tried to license the content from The Straits Times, SPH's flagship publication, in 2009 and 2010, the Internet giant said.

But while Yahoo! wanted to license entire articles, The Straits Times was willing to license out only shortened summaries. The newspaper terminated negotiations in 2010, Yahoo! alleged.

The business impact of those 23 articles is also insignificant, Yahoo! said.

Yahoo! added that SPH did not raise any issues about the alleged infringements for about a year, leading Yahoo! to believe that SPH did not have any complaints about any use of SPH works on the Internet portal.

And SPH did not initially provide copies of the allegedly infringing articles which it cited when Yahoo! asked, Yahoo! said in the filings.

Yahoo! is represented by ATMD Bird & Bird, while SPH has engaged Wong Partnership.