More than a year and a half after Moneyweb launched an application against Fin24 in the South Gauteng High Court for alleged plagiarism, copyright infringement and unfair competition, the case will be heard in the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday and Friday this week.
Moneyweb, owned by the Caxton group, argues in court papers that Fin24, owned by Caxton’s competitor Media24, used 7 of its articles unlawfully and offered it as its own. Fin24 has rejected these claims as patently false. The 7 articles were published between July 2012 and July 2013.
Moneyweb claims Fin24 used the 7 articles without permission and that this negatively impacted Moneyweb’s performance in terms of the number of times the articles were read on Moneyweb compared to on Fin24 itself.
Fin24 made it clear that at no time did it pretend to pass off these articles as its own. The bits aggregated from the 7 Moneyweb articles were clearly attributed to Moneyweb and a link provided to the original articles.
Fin24 also pointed out that its aggregated articles provided valuable exposure, transfer of audience and strong benefits for search engine optimisation to Moneyweb – a common practice among digital publishing operations.
The issue of what would be “fair use” is now one on which the court would have to decide.
According to Andrew Trench, News24’s editor-in-chief, the company is confident that its legal arguments will convince the court that online journalism includes many different styles and techniques, including aggregation, which is a global phenomenon which drives some of the biggest news sites in the world and that 24.com’s practice of aggregation is in line with this phenomenon.
“The growth and development of online journalism is an evolutionary process and many of the standards and ‘rules of the game’ are still being developed and will inevitably be the focus of debate and controversy,” said Trench.
“The evolution of online journalism will continue to see experimentation and new developments of which News24 will be at the forefront, underlined recently by our investment in a national reporting team.
“We will respect the final outcome of this case, but our commitment to freedom of information is unwavering, underlined, for example, by our free digital feed of news which we now offer even to competitor publishers.”
Fin24 is the biggest business news website in South Africa. According to the latest industry data by Effective Measure SA, endorsed by the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) for SA traffic on all devices – mobile and web – Fin24 had almost 1.5 million unique browsers (users) in April. Its closest competitor had about 600 000, while Moneyweb had less than 310 000.
Over the same period Fin24 had 6.4 million page views (visits on the site), with its closest competitor clocking 2.3 million views and Moneyweb 2.1 million.
Moneyweb’s latest results, issued in September 2014, showed a headline loss of R2.6m in the year to June, compared to a profit of R2.6m in the 2013 financial year. This was due to the loss of a single advertising contract, which slashed revenue by nearly a third.
Moneyweb’s revenue fell by more than R10m from R34.3m to R23.5m during the last year, with management admitting that it will be no small task to grow revenue again.
Since the Moneyweb application was launched, the case has become the topic of some debate in media and academic circles, with some going as far as claiming the court’s decision could have a big impact on journalism in South Africa.