International News Service v. Associated Press
248 U.S. 215 (1918)

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U.S. Supreme Court

International News Service v. Associated Press, 248 U.S. 215 (1918)

International News Service v. Associated Press

No. 221

Argued May 2, 3, 1918

Decided December 23, 1918

248 U.S. 215


An incorporated association of proprietors and representatives of many newspapers, engaged in gathering news and distributing it to its members for publication, is a proper party to represent them in a suit to protect their interests in news so collected against the illegal acts of a rival organization. Equity Rule 38. P. 248 U. S. 233.

The right to object to the nonjoinder of parties may be treated as

Page 248 U. S. 216

waived if not made specifically in the courts below. Equity Rules 43, 44. P. 248 U. S. 233.

A news article in a newspaper may be copyrighted under the Act of March 4, 1909, but news, as such, is not copyrightable. P. 248 U. S. 234

As against the public, any special interest of the producer of uncopyrighted news matter is lost upon the first publication. Id.

But one who gathers news at pains and expense, for the purpose of lucrative publication, may be said to have a quasi-property in the results of his enterprise as against a rival in the same business, and the appropriation of those results at the expense and to the damage of the one and for the profit of the other is unfair competition against which equity will afford relief. P. 248 U. S. 236.

An incorporated association of newspaper publishers gathered news at pains and expense, and, without applying for copyright, telegraphed it daily to its members throughout the country for their exclusive use in publication, they paying assessments therefor; a rival corporation, serving other newspapers for pecuniary returns, made a practice of obtaining this news through early publications in newspapers and on bulletins of the first company's members, and of sending it by telegraph, either as so taken or in rewritten form, to its own customers, thus enabling them to compete with the newspapers of the first company in the prompt publication of news obtained for the benefit of the latter by their exclusive agency and at their expense. Held that the first company and its members, as against the second company, had an equitable quasi-property in the news, even after the early publications; that the use made of it by the second company not as a mere basis for independent investigation, but by substantial appropriation for its own gain and at the expense and to the damage of their enterprise, amounted to unfair competition which should be enjoined irrespective of the false pretense involved in rewriting articles and in distributing the news without mentioning the source, for this, while accentuating the wrong, was not of its essence. Pp. 248 U. S. 237 et seq., 248 U. S. 242.

Upon the pleadings and proofs in this case, held that complainant was not debarred from relief upon the ground of unclean hands by the fact that, following a practice engaged in by the defendant also and by news agencies generally, it had used the defendant's news items, when published, as "tips" for investigations, the results of which it sold. P. 248 U. S. 242.

245 F. 244 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 248 U. S. 229

Primary Holding
News information obtained by a media source gives rise to a property right, and using that information in a different source violates the right.
During the First World War, International News Service (INS) freely admitted that it used news stories from the Associated Press (AP) in its own publications. This was because INS could not effectively report war news after it had released negative information on British casualties. To compensate for its lack of independent sources, INS owner William Randolph Hearst resorted to tactics such as bribery or early editions of East Coast newspapers in gaining access to AP news. (This was most effective on the West Coast because of the time change.) The INS rewrote the news and failed to credit the AP for it.

The AP believed that this violated its right to all of the news that it gathered from contributors around the world. By contrast, INS argued that the AP's proprietary rights expired when the news was first published. The AP received an injunction from the lower court.



  • Mahlon Pitney
  • Edward Douglass White
  • William Rufus Day
  • Willis Van Devanter
  • James Clark McReynolds

Rejecting the idea that an individual or entity could claim ownership of news, Pitney pointed out that news is nothing more than observable facts. If INS were a non-profit organization communicating the information for a purpose other than commercial gain, the AP would not be able to seek an injunction against it. However, the AP's proprietary right was violated because INS was a direct commercial competitor of the AP, and being the first news outlet to publish information is critical to success and survival in this industry. In this limited situation, therefore, an injunction was properly granted.


  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (Author)
  • Joseph McKenna


  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis (Author)

Arguing that the Court had exceeded its proper judicial role, Brandeis would have allowed the legislature to determine whether media outlets had a proprietary right in breaking news. He felt that courts would not be able to manage and enforce the rule that had been created.


  • Tom C. Clark (Author)

Case Commentary

This decision matters in areas far beyond news media and affects industries where exclusivity of design or idea plays a role. It gives rise to the principle of a priority right of ownership for the original creator of something tangible or intangible.

However, the long-term impact of the case on the mainstream media may be limited. The Second Circuit has held that the Copyright Act of 1976 nullified liability for this type of tort.

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