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Opinion: Stealing content is blatant, copyright laws are vague

Cindy Nguyen / June 16, 2014 04:12 PM

Copyright laws are harder to monitor online; because of the vast amount of content, it can be difficult to find the original source of an article.

Added to this are the sometimes vague terms of copyright law for news. Media law expert, Mark Pearson, told Crikey news stories are protected by “the form of expression, not facts of a story”. If a story is re-worded, there isn’t much protection copyright law can provide to the publication or author who gathered the information. Quoting is also a grey area, as it is assumed that the rights to a quote would be for the speaker. According to Pearson, unless there’s a contractual agreement between the author and the speaker, he couldn’t “see how a particular news organization could own the words”.

The battle between the Daily Mail and News Corp

Just six months after launching its Australian online branch, the Daily Mail is being accused of poaching stories from News Corp publications. But The Guardian Australia found News Corp using two examples of stories broken by the Daily Mail without attribution. The Guardian columnist Roy Greenslade said in a blog post that as far as the editor-in-chief of the Mail Online, Martin Clarke is concerned, hyperlinks to original content “covers him legally and ethically”. But Greenslade says the hyperlink to original content becomes redundant because “Mail Online’s magpies provide enough material to make the journey unnecessary”. Whether a hyperlink to the original content is included or not, poaching stories steals not only the potential ad revenue a story can generate but also the intellectual property from the author of the piece.

Poaching stories

'The best dress a woman can own': One of the stories News Corp says was poached. Photo via The Australian.

The implications for journalists

Journalist Taylor Auerbach moved less than three months ago from News Corp's Daily Telegraph to the Daily Mail. Last week he left the new job, returning to his previous employer, because he says he felt his work as a journalist was compromised. He told the Australian he tried to “chase yarns and do journalism, but that wasn’t the accepted practice” at the Daily Mail. Auerbach says his job as a journalist was “purely about the hits". "There’s no thought given to style or the integrity of the content, it’s just about getting people to hover their mouse over a story and click.”

Journalists may fall into the trap of being pressured into a position which forces them to copy other journalists' work or be left jobless. Greenslade said in his blog post, young journalists (who largely make up the Daily Mail’s Australian newsroom) are “to an extent, being exploited in order to perform a task that exploits the work of other journalists".

The future of online news

The internet has allowed for content to be shared instantaneously, but poached journalism can only end badly for the Australian media. Ethical training for journalists begins with the major news organisations, and those they employ. Although the law surrounding this issue is currently a grey area, regulation is key.

News Corp last week sent a cease and desist letter to the Mail Online regarding their poaching of stories, and Seven West Media has followed suit. If the case goes to court, it could create a new precedent for copyright law for online news in Australia. Without calling out poached stories as stolen content, originality and creativity in Australian journalism will give way to the residue of regurgitated news.


Check out Margaret Gee's other media news