Shelly Yachimovich is a member of the Knesset. She used to be a journalist, and during the incidents in question, was the Head of Israel’s Labour Party.
Danon PR Communications publishes a local newspaper in Modiin – an Israeli city.
On 6 October 2011, the local paper published an interview of a worker in Yachimovich’ headquarters, that was written by Channa Stern. Yachimovich posted this on her website, and the paper asked for it to be removed and for 40,000 Shekels compensation for copyright infringement. When this tactic didn’t work, the paper sued Yachimovich under Sections 11 and 34 of the 2007 Israel Copyright Act and under Section 1 of the Law Against Unjust Enrichment, claiming statutory damages of 100,000 Shekels and legal costs.
Yachimovich claimed that the article was posted under a section of the website devoted to newspaper articles and that the source was clearly marked. The article was posted by a volunteer, and, on the newspaper complaining, it was removed. Nevertheless, no guilt was admitted.
In her defense, Yachimovich claimed that the interview was in a question & answer format, and thus the copyright belonged to the interviewee and not to the interviewer. Furthermore, she claimed fair use under Section 19 of the Copyright Act. She argued that the article had no inherent value, no potential for resale and no way of monetizing, and that the reposting on her website only gave further coverage to the article and to the local paper to a fresh audience who would otherwise not have been aware of it.
Finally, the paper had used a publicity photo of Yachimovich without her permission. Although this was a PR picture, it had cost money. This raised equal and opposite copyright issues. To the extent that there were grounds for copyright compensation in the publication of the article, Yachimovich was entitled to equal compensation in use of her picture and the two payments should be offset. Attempts to reach a compromise failed, and the court was authorized to rule on the basis of the evidence submitted without cross-examination.
The first issue that the court grappled with was whether an interview is considered copyright of the interviewer, or if it is a list of answers attributed to the interviewee?
The court accepted that there was copyright in interviews if there was at least a minimum of creativity in the wording of the questions or their arrangement and editing. There was a cute reference to Peah 1: 1 which discusses minimum standards for various Biblical commandments, including visiting the Temple on pilgrim holidays, where the term for sighting the Temple, is identical to the term for interview.
The amount of creativity was at least that of tables and anthologies, and on the basis of the work-product definition, there was copyright in the publication.
Posting the article on the internet website, where some 20% of the interview was posted was considered republication.
The interviewer is more than merely a technician and has rights in the interview. The question of joint ownership of interviewer and interviewee is discussed at length, and the understanding developed is that of use of jointly owned real estate by one party.
Various decisions relating to summaries of newspapers has established that merely relating to copyright materials as being a review is not sufficient to create a fair use presumption. One paper cannot simply quote large chunks of another and claim fair use. On the other hand, there are no simple tests of quantity or quality, and the issue is one of context. In this instance, Yachimovich has created an anthology of newspaper articles and source was accredited. The use is non-commercial. There was no compelling reason for reproduction under the public’s right to know, but review purposes are also considered fair use. The article was not reproduced in its totality, but rather a selection was made. The reproduction neither damaged the circulation of the original paper, nor boosted Yachimovich’s website’s circulation. Yachimovich claimed that reproducing such articles was common practice, but didn’t provide evidence of this. Nevertheless, the claim of fair use was upheld.
Although moral rights create separate grounds for claiming damages, in this instance, the source was attributed, so moral rights were not compromised.
Since Yachimovich did nothing underhand, did not profit herself, or prevent the plaintiff from profiting from the publication, it was considered unfitting to consider unjust enrichment beyond the copyright issue.
Having established fair use, the question of statutory damages was moot. Nevertheless, the judge saw fit to expand a little.
The plaintiff claimed that Yachimovich had made “Political Gains” and since she was an ex-journalist herself and a Member of the Knesset, she should be an example to the public. The plaintiff further argued that with statutory damages, there was no requirement to estimate the actual damages. However the defendant argued that 100,000 Shekels was exaggerated and baseless in this case.
The court accepted that the plaintiff could save themselves the trouble of estimating and proving exact damages, but the court had the prerogative to rule less than maximum damages if it saw fit. In this case, the defendant had immediately removed the offending article, there was no damages and no claims of inequitable behaviour.
Shamgar from 592/88 Sagi vs. the Estate of Abraham Ninio (2) 254, 265 (1992), was cited and Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen in Zoom p. 601 was referred to, noting that when ruling damages one has to look at the damages caused and the warning effect.
In this instance, the case was taken down quickly. The creative piece was an interview of low inherent worth, and the plaintiff had no suffered any damages as the website was not a competitor to the local paper. The defendant’s profit was indirect and minor. The article was posted by a junior and there was nothing inequitable in the defendant’s behaviour. The bottom line is that there is copyright infringement. It is covered by the fair use exception and the damages are zero.
Regarding usage of the photo of Shelly Yachimovich, the copyright claim was only made by way of offset and not in its own right, so once the damages to be offset are zero, the issue is moot. Nevertheless, the picture is a PR photo that is supplied for use by papers. It is a creative work and is owned by Ms Yachimovich as it was work for hire, created for her. The paper, despite claiming to be a local non-profit publication had intentionally used this creative work.
The picture was used to add colour to the article and this is generally accepted use of publicity photos. Although the paper is given away free, it is a profit generating paper that lives off advertisements. Nevertheless, the article had newsworthiness and furthers free speech and other values leading to a conclusion of fair use. The photo was attributed to “Yachimovich PR” which indicates that there was no attempt to profit by it. The photo was a PR photo that was used for PR purposes, and this is fair use. Thus there was no grounds to grant damages to Yachimovich for using this photograph in this manner.
Since the defendant had raised counter claims, both parties had conducted themselves fairly, and related to the issues raised, the judge did not see fit to rule costs.
Civil Ruling 57588-05-12 Danon PR Telecommunications vs. Shelly Yachimovich, before Judge Ronit FinShuk Alt, 3 July 2014
This seems to be a good decision. It is a timely one as well. Plaintiffs are too quick to sue claiming copyright infringement. There is and should be a robust fair use doctrine.