Blogswipes, Law and the Indo

Plagiarism is back in blog discussions again after another apparent piece of fat-fingered filching from Talbot street’s Indo group.

I won’t be taking quite the same line as the McGarr Solicitors blog (as it takes in such lofty matters as whether the People’s Republic of China has managed the previously unconsidered feat of plagiarising the Moon)

Rather, I thought I’d address (from my sickbed) the more mundane question of what you can do if you find your own work being passed off under someone else’s name.

The answer lies in what the work was worth to you.

There is no crime of plagiarism. Try to report an instance to the police if you don’t believe me. [UPDATE: TJ points out that in my muddled state I’ve forgotten S144 of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000, which does say that a person who make available in the course of a business trade or profession “a copy of a work which is, and which he or she knows or has reason to believe is, an infringing copy of the work, shall be guilty of an offence.”]So if you wanted to take a legal action (and I raise this as an option only because instances of plagiarism frequently prompt exhortations of legal action from bystanders not on risk) what could you claim?

Well, if you were Redmum, say, and found that your photograph had been taken from Flickr and used on the front page of the Metro daily freesheet you could reasonably expect some form of payment. Indeed payment, though not a published credit, for her work was a happy endingin that case.

But what if you’re put out because your blog words have appeared under a journalist’s name in a newspaper now assembled in Talbot Street?

The problem here is that if you wanted to claim damages they would have to be based on your actual losses (or at least losses you could convincingly argue arise from the event). Now if this article is reproduced, verbatim, in next week’s Evening Fleabite what income or monies have I lost? Sadly, none. I made these words available for free. I’m not selling them to you the reader, so I can hardly claim the copied article has undercut me.

Under these circumstances, all that bloggers have to fall back on to discourage plagiarism is naming and shaming. This has drawbacks.

Firstly, it doesn’t appear to be a major source of shame in many Irish newspapers to have published plagiarised material. Indeed, as this tale suggests, the paper will sometimes react to the information by merely attempting to hide the article from the original author, rather than taking it down and looking into how their reader protection processes failed so dramatically.

There is a secondary problem for a blogger who finds themselves wronged by a journalist from the Independant News & Media Group’s stable of newspapers. This is the open hostility of the O’Reilly family to the internet- and bloggers in particular. It can hardly be a coincidence that the newspaper group whose owners and controllers have the most open contempt for-and hostility towards-bloggers is the one whose writers feel most able to steal from them.

Some quotes from Gavin O’Reilly’s recent speech to the Society of Editors-“The USP of the newspaper of the future [will be] built upon journalistic skills that are not simply a God-given right of someone with attitude sitting in a garage in front of a computer, but rather is a skill that is learned and earned.”

“Over the past two years, we have radically restructured our internal work flows… The result is that our journalists are now better focussed on crafting content that truly makes us distinctive”

Crafting content takes time- it’s an artisan approach. Until that distinctive stuff is finished I suppose we’ll all have to make do with the blogswipes.


  • Adam says:

    But surely you’d have some fall back in terms of having your work reproduced without your permission and without credit?

    I mean I publish what I write on my blog for free but there’s no consent given for people to repeat it wholesale – with or without my name in the byline.

  • celtictigger says:

    Hmmm… what about asserting moral rights as the copyright owner? The issue ultimately comes down to how the damages might be calculated… if the words are freely given via your blog then, as Simon points out, there is no loss to you (other then perhaps the reputational loss arising from being linked to certain newspapers). Tricky one… I suspect the law will need to evolve a bit to catch up with the technology.

  • Daragh O Brien says:

    Naming and shaming carries with it a risk of a journalist suing you. Calling them a theiving b*stard could be viewed as libel. You would need to show evidence that they had pinched the article (and probably not just co-incidences of wording)or establish that they didn’t were already looked down on by right thinking members of society (harder than it sounds).

  • Twenty Major says:

    The result is that our journalists are now better focussed on crafting content that truly makes us distinctive

    Distinctive from other newspapers, perhaps, but I suppose the good thing for Indo hacks is that they could walk into to a job in any gossip mag like Heat without any problem at all.

  • Daragh O Brien says:

    Distinctive isnt’ always good. You can stand out in your field for being crappest. Steve Staunton was a distinctive football manager for example.

  • copernicus says:

    Bloggers might be well advised to put a CC licence on everything.

  • Twenty Major says:

    Is a CC licence going to stop an Indo journalist from cogging though?

  • Simon McGarr says:

    Adam; you have the right to control your own word and where they appear. The question I was addressing was the practical one of whether you could expect to recieve enough compensation for a breach of that right to make it worth the effort to pursue it.

    @ Twenty & Celtictigger: absence of a cc licence doesn’t mean you’ve given all your rights away. The default position for all original works is that All Rights are reserved to the author.

  • TJ says:

    “There is no crime of plagiarism”

    Your illness may be causing you to overlook some of the finer points of copyright law. 🙂 Where the level of copying / paraphrasing is such as to amount to infringement and the copy is being used in a commercial manner then s.140 CRRA applies:

  • Twenty Major says:

    Cheers Simon, I just meant that a CC licence is not really going to put off somebody who is willing to copy and paste someone else’s content into an article.

  • copernicus says:

    My point – and I don’t know if it’s a sustainable one – is that you would be in a stronger position to demand payment if you had an attribution CC licence.

  • Simon McGarr says:

    TJ; How could I have forgotten! I recall well the day Mr. Justice Peter Kelly recommended to EMI et al that they should pass details to the DPP of copyright infringement.

    If anyone does report a blogswipe to the police, please come back and tell us how it went.

  • Daragh O Brien says:

    Me: “Officer, somebody swiped stuff off my blog”

    Plod: “Where is your Bog? This is Pearse St, if your bog is in the country you’ll need to find your local station and report it there”

    Me: “No, I’m a blogger. Somebody cut stuff out of my blog”

    Plod: “Sir, if you are from the country you should really go to your local station and report that someone has cut turf out of your bog”.

    Me:”No… I am a b*L*ogger. I write a b*L*og. Somebody nicked some of the content of my b*L*og. I’d like to report it.”

    Plod: “Sir, if someone took the contents of your bog you should really report it to the gardai in your area. They’ll be better placed to investigate it. Now, if you don’t mind I need to track down some drug dealers (opens window, looks out)”

    Me: “Arse.”

  • Celtictigger says:

    Blogger Zen Koan…

    If the cops kept a blog and the Indo cogged from it, would it be credited as a “police source”?

  • […] is no crime of plagiarism in Irish law. But there is the Copyright Act 2000. I sent off an invoice. I got a phone call in response, but no […]

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