Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Court Upholds Newsletter in 'Fair Use' Case

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Court Upholds Newsletter in 'Fair Use' Case

Article excerpt

A FEDERAL JUDGE has dismissed a copyright infringement and defamation suit filed against a newsletter over its coverage of a speech delivered at a public relations conference.

U.S. District Judge John S. Martin Jr. in New York ruled that Jack O'Dwyer, publisher of two public relations journals, acted within the "fair use" exceptions to the federal Copyright Act when he reported on and criticized a presentation given by former Wall Street Journal reporter Dean Rotbart at a 1993 Public Relations Society of America conference in Orlando, Fla.

Jane Kirtley, a lawyer and executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the decision broke no legal ground but "has underscored the right of journalists to accurately report on speeches, writing and presentations that are of public interest and concern. It has taken a powerful tool of censorship from those who prefer not to have their presentations be subjected to public scrutiny."

Rotbart claimed O'Dwyer stole "the heart" of his talk, which was based on his for-profit Newsroom Confidential seminars. Rotbart charged $350 per person for the seminars and required PR professionals who attended to sign a nondisclosure agreement before listening to him advise on press relations and excoriate the financial press. Rotbart also publishes newsletters, including one on financial journalism.

O'Dwyer tape-recorded Rotbart's presentation and took written notes. Later, in several issues of the weekly Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter and monthly O'Dwyer's PR Services Report, he provided extensive coverage, including criticism, of the presentation. He also sent transcripts to news organizations that Rotbart had attacked.

Rotbart had chastised financial reporters for selling out to their sources and for trying "first and foremost to promote their own concerns."

O'Dwyer's coverage dismissed Rotbart's views as "bilge" and a "worm's-eye view of journalism. …

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