Citation in a book and copyright infringement

Newspaper and magazine articles fall under the work of arts protected by copyright.

Articles 38-45 of the Italian Copyright Law explicitly recognizes them as creative works.

Jurisprudence confirms the protection of the single article and which was also recognized with judgment no.  12314/2015 by the Supreme Court of Cassation.

Nevertheless, the Italian Copyright Law includes also specific exceptions for the fair use of news articles.

One could wonder when the reproduction of an article in other people’s work is allowed.

The Court of Appeal of Naples has recently handled such a case.

In 2008 a publishing company, owner of the rights of newspaper articles, sued the author of a book who reproduced the articles in his work without requesting the consent.

From the reconstruction of the matter, it came to light that the author went to the newspaper offices to collect information which later merged in his book.

Nevertheless, in his book there wasn’t any indication of a newspaper publication nor of the authors of the quoted articles.

While in some instances, the author “reworked” the material with a recognizable creative contribution, in others he quoted exactly the article without any mention of the headline.

According to the author, the work was the product of an independent creative activity and the questioned claimed similarities which were disputed “in addition to be qualitatively and quantitatively irrelevant (…), they concerned current events and were due to the commonality of sources, which were public domain, consulted by the author”.

By the principles elaborated by the jurisprudence, one can incur in copyright infringement not only when a work is copied entirely (“abusive reproduction in a strict sense”) but also when, even with differences and similarities, the essentials features characterizing the earlier work can be recognized in the later (“counterfeit”).

The creative elaboration of someone else’s work doesn’t constitute a violation of rights if it is characterized by a recognizable creative contribution from the author of the elaboration.

In this particular case, the Judges highlighted that for three of the seven works reproduced there was an illicit appropriation as the book quoted almost entirely the articles without acquiring its own independent originality.

Moreover, the Court excluded, in this case, the possibility to apply art. 70 of the Italian Copyright Law that allows fair use by citation, summarization or reproduction of excerpts or parts of a protected work of art, within justified limits of critique, discussion or teaching purposes.

The author accused of plagiarism didn’t just report the historical facts presented in the articles, which could have excluded the illicit, but he used them for his own purposes.

The Court (with judgment 3239/2013, confirmed by the Supreme Court of Cassation) sentenced the author and the publishing company that edited the publication of the book to cite the source and the authors of the articles and also to compensate for the damage.