I’m still angry. A few weeks ago an article of mine was stolen. Not a book or piece of clothing. It was an idea I had written and posted online. On Friday March 28 all 330 words of the article were published in a central Victorian newspaper. At some point before it had been copied from my web site and pasted into their format sheets. They attributed the work to me, and incorrectly referenced my web site, but never asked permission. I suspect they thought no-one would notice. That is not an excuse.
The internet is generally protected by a social code of conduct. People frequently reference one another, tag web sites and link between work. Since the links drive traffic to the original web page this is usually good. Posts on Twitter are also often repeated, with many newspapers coping tweets into their pages. This type of act is why the newspaper editor believed it was ok for him to use my work. He thought that because it had been published online, and he found it via twitter, copying it was fair conduct. After I argued with him against this view I believe he still thought he was right.
The legal issue is quite clear. Regardless of the internet, as this act happened in Australia it is subject to Australian Copyright Law. The key argument on a copyright infringement, and so whether a quote or other portion of work is permissible within someone else’s work, is if the piece used can be said to make a substantial contribution to the overall work. In this case there is no doubt. As the entire piece was copied and published that is illegal. While the editor apologised for not asking for permission I don’t believe he accepted any guilt, and he said that it was a common practice of the paper to publish people’s work like this. He believed minor blogs and web sites should appreciate his free advertising. That might sound infuriating to a trained legal scholar, however this wasn’t what made me mad.
I sent them an invoice for the work and two emails that have not received a reply. My phone call was frustrating for the lack of responsibility taken, and for the assumption that his actions were reasonable. None of those things angered me the most. Instead what angered me was the lack of respect.
The editor and newspaper seemed not to care about publishing work without consent. They have, according to the editor, entered people’s blog pages and web sites and copied work in the past. My piece, I must highlight, was written in minor frustration and with an attempt at humour, and it’s republication without review caused me great embarrassment. However, if the editor felt it worthy of formal promotion and requested to publish it there was a strong chance I would have released it to their minor circulation for free. Because they didn’t bother to ask, nor considered it worth making any communication, this is why I’m still angry.
There is very little that can be done now. I probably will continue to self-publish online because I like the engagement, and I know there is very little chance to check if any other publication in the world is copying content and putting it to print. The best I can do is hope that other writers read this and know that the legal rights to their work, that they do have an option for legal recourse, and I hope the newspaper editor also read this and realises that his actions were wrong. That would be a good start.