Steal This Headline! Australian Court Finds No Copyright in Newspaper Headlines


The Internet has changed the way many consumers get their news, and a recent Australian copyright decision appears to be keeping pace with modern times. In Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd v Reed International Books Australia Pty Ltd [2010] FCA 984, the Federal Court of Australia dismissed a lawsuit by an Australian newspaper publisher against a news aggregator, holding that newspaper headlines – which the aggregator reproduced without alteration – are not protected by copyright. The 60 page landmark opinion resolves a legal issue that has been lurking since the 1990s, when news aggregators began distributing summaries of articles drawn from a variety of online news sources.

The Fairfax decision has received wide attention in Australia, which does not have an equivalent of 37 CFR 202.1, excluding titles from copyright protection. While the outcome is the result of legal reasoning and precedent, rather than legislative mandate, it highlights the importance of harmonizing intellectual property law across international boundaries, particularly in a world that has become increasingly dependent on the Internet for news and information.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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