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Slovak ruling angers publishing industry

Court grants resale of press articles without authors' permission

Posted: January 18, 2012

By Klára Jiřičná - Staff Writer | Comments (0) | Post comment

A Slovak Regional Court has angered publishers with a ruling that news articles are not subject to copyright protection, a decision that has thrown the neighboring country's media into a frenzy and may affect the distribution of Czech press articles as well.

At issue was a dispute between four of Slovakia's leading publishing groups - Ecopress, Perex, Petit Press and Ringier - and media monitoring agency Storin, which tracks press articles and repackages content for clients seeking to follow specific subjects. The firm, for example, provides the Slovak Finance Ministry with any articles that mention Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš's name and in doing so reprints, for profit, articles originally produced elsewhere.

The publishers had sought to block Storin from redistributing its content to third parties without the original publisher's permission. One of the newspapers involved, the Bratislava-based daily Hospodárské noviny (HN), said it had severed cooperation with Storin in 2004. But the Regional Court ruling, which was leaked to the press in early January, upheld an earlier district court decision that gave Storin the right to republish content and classified such articles as "daily news," which the court said are not protected by copyright law.

A court spokesman declined to comment on the case, saying the ruling had yet to be published and released to the general public.

"We argued that the defendant, Storin, systematically and repeatedly violated our copyrights by providing most of our articles to their clients without our consent," said Milan Mokráň, CEO of Ecopress, the publisher of HN. "The entire decision shows that the court understands copyright law as a law that only protects works of art."

Storin co-owner Oľga Cimová, meanwhile, insists the court decision represents a "victory of law over injustice," going on to say that "hastily rewritten statements of third persons or documents from public institutions or private companies cannot be compared with the genuine works of [writers Bohumil] Hrabal or [Ernest] Hemingway."

"The criticism of publishers is only purpose-built, because their intention is to dominate the market with monitoring services going unfulfilled," Cimová continued. "This is not about copyright protection or the rights of journalists, but unfair competition on the information market by publishers."

For the most part, publishers and Storin cooperated until the year 2000, when many of the publishers increasingly turned to the Internet to license and distribute their own content. The court ruling ostensibly places newspaper and magazine articles in the same category as government press releases or bulletins.

The Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN) weighed in on the debate, issuing a Jan. 12 statement urging reforms to current copyright laws. The statement said the dispute goes beyond "further selling or broadcasting of copyright works to the third parties, so-called monitoring, but it is also about a clear definition of the legal license to use authorial works, so that the authors would have profit from the multiple use of their works, including via the Internet or in various systems enabling them to charge for their work."

"The main problem is the ambiguity of the rules protecting journalistic works," said Zuzana Krútka, an SSN expert on law and ethics. "The law, in different sections, uses different terminology. This has to be amended to make clear that a journalist's work is an author's work."

According to experts, the dispute between original publishers and media monitoring groups has been a problem for the past decade. Ecopress had launched similar proceedings against Storin as early as 2000. Storin has collected electronic versions of media articles since 1990. Clients create packages based on chosen keywords and receive transcripts of related news articles.

Ľubomír Šimášek, director of Newton Media, another firm providing media monitoring, said his firm pays a licensing fee for any published work it redistributes. He also told the daily SME that the selling of news articles emanating from the Czech Republic is common practice in Slovakia, as Slovak law does not clearly address such transactions.   

For his part, Mokráň is convinced the Regional Court verdict will not last long, as it directly clashes with a European Court of Justice ruling on a similar case that saw judges back publishers. Slovak publishers have pledged to file their own appeals with the country's Supreme and Constitutional courts.

Klára Jiřičná can be reached at

Tags: copyright law, slovakia, slovak media, storin, sme, hospodarske noviny.

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