The press often finds itself defending legal actions, either in libel or privacy cases, but it’s comparatively rare to see a major publication issuing proceedings against a company about whom they write. The Financial Times, however, is currently suing the Blackstone Group in New York in a dispute that hinges on one major issue: Copyright Infringement.
The FT allege that Blackstone have allowed several employees to use one login and password to access thousands of articles from the website FT.com, instead of paying for each individual user. Up to 100 of Blackstone’s employees are also named in the action, according to papers filed in Manhattan’s Federal District Court, which alleges copyright infringement as well as “computer fraud”.
Although this is a US case, the principles can be applied to UK Law. Basically, when anyone signs up to a paid service such as FT.com, you are effectively buying a personal license for one user to view material which the FT has created for their website and which is protected by copyright.
Anyone who copies the website’s content is liable for copyright infringement, and accessing paid sections of the site from more than one PC will almost certainly count. It may well be common practice in industry to have several employees using one login on paid sites such as FT.com, but that doesn’t make it legal. If nothing else, it’s almost certainly a breach of the contract between the website and its user to have more than one person using a login.
The principle is very similar to illegal music downloading in that many may see this as a “victimless crime”, and although many websites might have hesitated in suing their clients for this kind of copyright infringement previously, times have changed.
Copyright protects the contents of websites and their text even if they are not subscription services, and anyone who uses a substantial part of them is liable for infringement. Print media is struggling to complete with online media such as FT.com, and subscriptions to the website are probably a large source of revenue for the company. As the credit crunch continues to bite, we will see more cases like this as businesses look to protect their intellectual property rights where they will prove to be one of the most valuable assets available to them.
FT probably wants to set an example here and send a message to their readership that if you want to use their service, you will need to pay for it. It’s probably only a matter of time before we see a similar case in the UK.