Hollywood Bloggers Battle Over Who Owns a Scoop on the Web

Nikke Finke has invoked the "hot news" doctrine against Sharon Waxman's The Wrap, claiming copyright covers more than words

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Internet evangelists often describe the web as a hyperlink and hat tip-based culture that, unlike the ink-and-paper world we're leaving behind, doesn't represent a zero-sum game for media companies. You're not admitting defeat when you link to a competitor's scoop, so the theory goes, but rather embracing the medium's free-love, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats ethos. In other words, one news outlet's success doesn't necessarily come at another's expense.

Nikki Finke, it seems, hasn't exactly bought into this theory. Finke, the influential and notoriously aggressive founder of Deadline Hollywood, has reignited her long-running feud with rival entertainment blogger Sharon Waxman by invoking a "hot news" claim, in a dispute that raises big questions about how news should be disseminated online.

"Hot news" refers not to particularly salacious celebrity gossip but rather to the legal concept that an outlet's news can be so exclusive, labor-intensive, and time-sensitive that a competitor who reproduces the information--even without copying the content verbatim--destroys the value of the news and diminishes the outlet's incentive to produce more of it. Finke asserts that her five-year-old blog breaks stories only to see "a proliferating number of blogs and websites without the journalism credentials we have ... post our original content 5- or 10-minutes after us without credit and/or linkback and without individually reporting the articles themselves."

Deadline and its parent company, Mail.com Media Corporation (MMC), have sent a cease and desist letter to Waxman and her colleagues demanding that The Wrap, which Waxman edits, stop "misappropriating" Deadline's content. The note points out that Waxman accused the website Newser last year of copying The Wrap's stories without proper attribution. In response, The Wrap contends that MMC wants it to "cease and desist from reporting the news" and doesn't provide concrete examples of The Wrap violating Deadline's intellectual property rights.

So, does Finke stand on firm ground in citing the hot news doctrine? David Poland at Movie City News doesn't think so. He says the doctrine has no place in entertainment reporting because industry "news" is often fed to reporters by people who want it spread, not dug up by Woodward and Bernstein-esque investigative reporters. He says people in Hollywood dole out their glorified press released based on which journalist will best get the word out or which threatens them most and therefore needs some buttering up. "Nikki has done a brilliant, horrible job of taking control of this game," Poland claims, "but she dominates with fear-based manipulation, not journalism."

There is also scant legal precedent for hot news claims, though PaidContent's Joe Mullin says that may change when a case currently pending in a New York federal appeals court is decided. The case revolves around whether an online financial news service--Theflyonthewall.com Inc--should be able to publish instantaneous reports on banks' stock upgrades and downgrades. Google and Twitter have weighed in on the case, arguing that "in a world of modern communications technology, where anyone with a cell phone may disseminate news throughout the world even as it is occurring, the notion that a single media outlet should have a monopoly on time-sensitive facts is not only contrary to law, it is, as a practical matter, futile."

The spat also underscores the battle for control of Hollywood news coverage--and the funding, exposure, and numerous other benefits that comes with it--as blogs battle to fill the void left by fading Hollywood trade publications. Glynnis MacNicol at Business Insider says that, in general, attribution has become an issue in today's media ecosystem: "This lack of attribution, something that mainstream media orgs have been plenty guilty of since the onset of blogs, but which was generally adhered by blogs as a point of respect, has been noticeably on the decline in the last year. We appear to be in a phase now where finding a way, any way, not to link is a matter of course."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.