Australia Finds No Copyright in Newspaper Headlines

According to a ruling by the Federal Court of Australia of a case between Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd and Reed International Books Australia Pty Ltd on 7 September 2010, no copyright is found in newspaper headlines and reproduction of which does not cause an infringement.

The case arose three years ago when Fairfax lodged a suit against Reed, claiming that Reed has infringed its copyright by using newspaper headlines from its Australian Financial Review ("AFR") in an online information service for news abstracts accessed by and sent to subscribers.
 
The judge of the Federal Court, after examining ten headlines identified by Fairfax, ruled that none of the headlines are "capable of being literary works in which copyright can subsist', and even if the combination of headlines with articles constitutes a copyright work, Reed does not take substantial part of such a work.
 
In respect of the decision, Reed thinks it reflects and reinforces a long-standing view of copyright law that words, titles and advertising slogans are too insubstantial to qualify for copyright protection, whereas Fairfax described the ruling as "disappointing", for failing to align with what is necessary to protect intellectual property in the digital media environment.
 
The ruling, being the first of its kind in the common law world to consider and decide the issue, is expected to have significant implications on the publishing and online media industries. On the one side, content aggregators that summarise the work of others and distribute it to their readers may continue using the titles or headlines of the original source in their abstracts or citations without risking copyright infringement. On the other side, publishers of content may not be able to rely on copyright protection as a means of controlling the redistribution of or access to their online content.