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CA favors GMA in copyright violation case filed by ABS-CBN

The Court of Appeals (CA) ruled in favor of GMA Network in a case of copyright infringement filed by ABS-CBN Corporation in relation to the Angelo dela Cruz's homecoming video in 2004 that was aired over GMA's Flash Report. The case stemmed from the allegedly unauthorized airing of a footage showing Dela Cruz's arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) over GMA's newscast on July 22, 2004. Both GMA and ABS-CBN deployed news teams on-site to cover the arrival of Dela Cruz, who was an overseas Filipino worker kidnapped in Iraq. ABS-CBN claimed that GMA "stole" its live feed, which was actually taken from Reuters Television Service (Reuters), where GMA had a subscription contract for videos.
In a 14-page decision penned by Associate Justice Josefina Guevara-Salonga dated November 9, the CA reversed the resolution of the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued by then Secretary Alberto Agra last June 29, which directed the filing of a criminal case against officers of GMA for violation of Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines or RA 8293. Instead, the CA reinstated the earlier resolution of the DOJ issued by former Secretary Raul Gonzales on August 1, 2005, which ruled that the "airing of dela Cruz's homecoming was done in good faith and cannot be regarded infringement of copyrights." Secretary Gonzales' resolution was later reversed by Agra based on a motion for reconsideration filed by ABS-CBN. The CA found no probable cause to charge GMA executives, namely, Chairman and CEO Atty. Felipe L. Gozon, then EVP and now President and COO Gilberto R. Duavit Jr., SVP for News and Public Affairs Marissa L. Flores, VP for News Programs Jessica Soho, AVP for News Operations Grace Dela Peña-Reyes, and then News Program Manager John Manalastas. The court ruled that Secretary Agra "by ordering the filing of information without proof that probable cause exists to charge petitioners with a crime... committed an error in his decision." The CA agreed with then Secretary Gonzales that “the inadvertent airing of the five second footage squarely falls within the scope of Section 212 of the Code considering that said footage constitutes a mere short excerpt compared to the entirety of the subject news footage." Besides, since the material was received by GMA without notice of "No Access Philippines" from Reuters and CNN, GMA cannot be charged of having knowledge of the ownership of the material by another and in fact stopped the airing upon notice that the same feed was aired over ABS-CBN, CA stated in its decision. "The nature of the said news footage is undeniably newsworthy being a current event, that the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole is minimal and thus cannot be considered as a copyright infringement," the decision likewise read. It added: "To require petitioners to proffer their defenses during trial when it is evident, at this point, that no probable cause exists to indict them to begin with is a glaring error of jurisdiction on the part of the respondent Secretary and verily defeats the purpose of preliminary investigation."—JV, GMANews.TV