I receive an alarming telephone call!!!

“You’re in the Mail on Sunday!” gibbers Big A.

I am taken aback. Fearing some sort of expose regarding the chickens, I hurry over to his place to investigate…

Hm. I drop a note to John Wellington, who is the Mail on Sunday’s Managing Editor. It reads:

‘Dear Mr Wellington,

On page 74 of the March 16th issue of ‘The Mail on Sunday’ you published a 392-word piece headlined ‘Blog of the Week – Adventures of a family man who gave up his high-powered job and moved to rural Norfolk’.

The piece (in its entirety) consisted of copyrighted articles lifted without my knowledge or consent from a website for which I am the registered owner…

[bit more blah, yours sincerely, etc.]’

Not having worked for the Mail on Sunday before, and a stated wordage figure proving elusive, I pluck a conservative amount out of the air and stick it on the bottom of an invoice, and send the lot via the kind auspices of the G.P.O. along with one of my stern-looking address labels. To the Mail on Sunday’s credit, they pay me my two hundred quid quicker than most biggish companies would, and John Wellington sends me his (what I am sure are sincere) apologies.

There’s nothing quite so Rikfromtheyoungonesesque about people with blogs getting on their high horse about print journalists, except perhaps print journalists getting on their high horse about people with blogs. Clearly, however, there’s a little bit of a mutual-understanding issue here. I always go for cock-up over conspiracy, but one paragraph of his reply to me does seem a bit… a bit not quite fitting in with what I thought things were about.

‘We generally take the view that blogs published on the internet have already been placed in the public domain by their authors and, in case of amateur writers, most people are happy to have their work recognised and displayed to a wider audience.’

Discuss.

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98 Comments

  1. Wow! Reg Crowder! The REAL Reg Crowder. I’ve heard of him!

  2. Just to clarify the copyright issue. In the UK (and some other countries) as soon as you write something you own the copyright. It doesn’t matter if it’s a journal of your innermost thoughts or a short story you are hoping to sell, you own the copyright. And it doesn’t matter where you write it – a diary you keep under your bed, a book or on the internet – you still own the copyright. You don’t even have to put the copyright symbol on it. It’s yours.

    “In the public domain” is a complete non-defence in this case. Just because it’s on the internet it’s not in the public domain any more than the books in my local library are in the public domain. As has been proven in many libel cases the internet is little different to any other medium as far as publishing laws go. In this case there is also a copyright symbol to reinforce this point; to be public domain it would have to be labelled as such.

    And unless you give them permission, no one has the right to copy that material. There is only one major “fair use” exception and that is for use in criticism or comment. So if someone writes a review of a book (or a website) it’s fine to quote parts of it in the context of the review. It’s also OK to parody a work (but not use it to satirise something else). But lifting a piece in its entirety and putting nothing else with it is a complete no-no, even before you get to the “they’re making money out of it” and “they’d have paid someone else for that slot, so they should pay Jonny” arguments.

    The internet has undoubtedly made this more complex – are search engines infringing copyright when they index entire web pages or provide thumbnails of pictures? And what about the current JK Rowling case where she only sued when the website was turned into a book? But in Jonny’s case this is 100% infringement, with a laughable defence of “public domain”, hence the speedy resolution. It was a particularly cynical and lazy act of page-filling, but I’m guessing not that rare.

    But I do look forward to next Sunday’s “My Chicken Shame”.

  3. I’m rushing, I haven’t read all the comments as yet…but, to what Clair #3 says, and to your comment #11…yes, but, isn’t the newspaper making money with your words? Which then, doesn’t make it right for them to quote you without your permission.

  4. It’s lazy and discourteous. Asking permission is so easy and most of us wouldn’t say no. Taking the piss just makes matters worse.

    A while back my partner was asked if she would contribute some articles for a website. She went on the site to have a look round and saw a poorly plagiarised version of one of her own “free-issue” articles sitting there, ones she allows to be used on condition that she’s credited with a link. The only concessions she allows towards a re-write are local environment changes – spelling, idioms etc. There was no credit and what’s more, it had been re-written by someone with a terrible grasp of English even though it was still recognisably hers as the thief had made no changes to the structure. Naturally she was annoyed but by this time the webmaster had given her his address, an act of folly on his part that filled us with glee because out of the whole wide world, he lived half a mile away. Needless to say, he pulled not only the article but the site.

  5. Every time I read that’amateur writers’ bit I fume. For too long ‘amateur writers’ have been exploited and done the dirty to by unscrupulous editors.
    I wonder what his definition of a pro is? Some one who earns their living by writing? That disqualifies a hell of a lot of gifted writers. I think what they did is inexcusable. Absolutely!

  6. Will the money be used to replace chicken #4? You could buy a rooster at the weekend and call it ‘Male on Sunday’.

  7. What Salvadore Vincent said (#52).

    Especially the bit about “My chicken Shame”.

  8. They seem to do this a lot, and rarely, if ever, seem to credit or tell the author they’re about to do so, happened to the lovely Jo earlier this month: http://sleepingeyes.blogspot.com/2008/04/mail-on-sunday-blog-of-week.html

  9. Believe it or not, newspapers know exactly what they are and are not entitled to do and when they’ve been rumbled. Anyone who doubts that the MoS knew it was a fair cop should consider the speed with which it handed over the £200 (and yes, they would have withheld it if they thought they were entitled to).

  10. well, duh. anythingin the public domain is for everyone to use and make money off of at will. silly.

  11. Yes – Salvadore Vincent provides a masterclass in the legal situation, from one who knows.

    Pat has got an interesting point. A lot of bloggers I know wholly or partially earn their living from writing (whether as a direct or indirect result of blogging or not). I think what HASN’T changed in the – yuk – ‘blogosphere’ is that they have always had immense respect for the skills of people who write just for the love of it. As do I.

  12. I’m with Clunky Johnny, let the chickens shit on the article – it will be very cathartic – then send it along to W…Wally with a copy of Salvadore’s insight so at least next time he might consider contacting you first.
    Struggling writer and blogette Jules Ritter

  13. Thanks for that link, handlewithcare. Yes – interesting. One person who is chuffed to bits, and one person who is pissed off (but thinks that there is nothing that she can do about it).

  14. Spend your earnings wisely young man.

    £200 will more than cover the snuffed chicken. You could treat them to a coup extension and expand the (insert word like ‘flock’ that is applicable to chickens).

    Erm, how can they label you amateur in a covering letter accompanying their pament of your invoice???

    Chin chin

  15. Sorry to come in so late – I was outside doing some concreting.

    And now I’ve dusted off my publisher’s hat to give you the copyright masterclass, only to see that Salvadore Vincent got in ahead of me.

    Well done for having the nous to chase the money. Maybe you should suggested that if they like your copy so much you could write a weekly column for them.

    How are the chickens? One of mine went broody this week, so I dumped her in a bucket of water. (I have it on good authority that it cools her down and reverses shocks her system back into normality. I will wait and see.)

    No I didn’t let the chickens walk on the concrete!

  16. “Male on Sunday”. Oh. My. God. That’s good shit.
    What’s up with no link, Steve? You obviously have skills.

  17. I would then start a new blog taking all te articles out of the daily mail and placing them on the internet. After all they are in the public domain…

    While I would be quite chuffed to have my blogs hit the press I have to admit I would like the to ask me first, and compensate me slightly for my work which they will effectively be selling on to other people.

  18. I was blog of the week about 3 weeks ago. I wasn’t told, and found out completely by fluke when one of my readers told me.

    I was pleased to see it in print but pissed off that

    1) it was edited and taken out of context
    2) they hadn’t asked me permission
    3) they hadn’t told me

    Not only is it curteous to let someone know if you’re using their work, it’s also very disconcerting that something you happily release into the internet domain is then put into another medium, which is available to a whole new set of people.

    Seeing as it doesn’t seem to increase stats or do anything apart from give you a slight glow at seeing your writing in print (albeit edited), you get nothing out of it. They, on the other hand, do.

    I only wish I’d had the forsight to charge them, too! I just emailed a ranty letter.

    Funnily enough, after my email they said they’d address my concern about not letting bloggers know…clearly, they haven’t. Not that I’m surprised. http://sleepingeyes.blogspot.com/2008/04/reply-from-mail-on-sunday.html

  19. 1. believe it or not, mention in the print media does little to drive traffic to your site, so I wouldn’t take the “honored” bit too seriously.

    2. They paid up for their copyright infringement–recognizing that you are, in fact, the legal owner of your works, and even without the little “circled c” you always were.

    3. Since you’ve been paid, that in effect makes you a professional and this blog a business. If you cash the check (cheque?) you a. owe tax on the income and b. better form an LLC quick, fast, and in a hurry, with all the licenses that apply to a business.

    4. If you don’t cash the check, you’ve great grounds for a lawsuit–as they recognized (albeit after the fact) that your works were yours, not theirs, and they stole from you. If a thief steals your wallet, shares your money with his friends, and pays you only for the use of your wallet, he’s still guilty of theft. By accepting their money, you are agreeing to their practice, and the words become theirs, not yours, unless you agreed before the sale that they are only to be used one time, and you retain all other rights to them except for the single printing. Without a contract, they can do with them as they please.

    5. I would use their (uncashed) check as prima facie evidence that they understood (or currently believe) that your works have value. Since they are in the business of providing content that will attract readers (and advertising dollars)they wouldn’t print them if they didn’t believe they had value to their readership–even if it’s only entertainment value. If they believe it was “public domain” they have the responsibility to contact the author and see if that is the case. It only took me (a product of US public schools) about .0003 seconds to see your “contacting me” link. They can find the definition in almost any legal dictionary (and I’m sure they have a legal department) under the term “due diligence.”

    Don’t accept their payoff, because I think you have a great case for intellectual property rights, copyright infringement, and a MUCH BIGGER payday for punitive damages. After all, if you were to someday decide to use an advertising mechanism on your blog, the words they printed would NOT belong to you, because they’ve printed them and paid you for them, and you couldn’t turn around and let anyone else read your words on your blog, because they aren’t yours anymore, the belong to the Mail.

    A nice lawyered-up letter should send them doing cheetah flips to make nice. Settle for nothing short of the entire days’ ad revenue from their Sunday edition, and a Full, front page apology, the wording of you must approve before publishing. Toss in printing your link on every page of their paper for a year, and a one-year contract to publish your thoughts on anything three times a week.

    From that starting point, you should be able to compromise far more remuneration than $397 (USD) although that’s not a bad haul for a post you published for free.

  20. Two pretty detailed comments there – thanks.

    Hi Jo – yes – you were definitely within your rights to be a bit narked. Like I said earlier, I’m quite sure that some people would be fine with seeing their stuff reprinted… but being asked would seem to be the bare minimum of courtesy. Personally I love reviews, nice (or nasty) mentions, hat-tips, being included in lists an’ all that… but I draw the line at providing space filler.

    Chuck – wow – where to start?!? Part of my meagre, meagre, pauper’s earnings comes from writing things anyway, so I don’t need to start up a company or anything. And I’ve cashed the cheque, which I plan to spend on beer. Bravely, I waited for it to clear before writing this…

  21. Chuck – and yes – haha! – your first point – traffic on that Sunday was very slightly lower than on the two previous Sundays. I checked. Straight away.

  22. Go Chuck! You can work for me any day!

    Well, as others said, sorry to be a bit late here. So let’s leave the copyright thing and move to the word amateur, which has caused upset to some.

    It means “doing it for love”. It is not, and shouldn’t be taken as, any form of criticism, and I sense from Jonny’s letter extract, the correct meaning was meant by the MoS.

    Once I used to write numbing freelance stuff for brain-dead readers of organs like The Scotsman. Paid, if not handsomely, as The Scotsmoon also used the line that their exposure had intrinsic value to the writer’s career. That their byline was worth some bucks. (They reckoned, and probably correctly.)

    But this writing was paid for, and thus I was then, I guess, “professional”.

    These days I earn my living in another area, but continue to write a personal weblog for my own and my readers’ entertainment. Too quirky and unreliable for print, it nevertheless brings in a steady if modest advertising revenue from those lovely people at Google.

    But amateur. And I’m proud of that. Times and media have changed, even if the MoS hasn’t. Go Chuck. Pity you cashed that cheque, JB. You could have been a cause celebre. (Again.) And there’s me on jury duty next week.

  23. That is terrible, think its great that they paid you for it though. Well done.

  24. I agree with you Peter, and I didn’t think it was meant as an insult.

    I think their problem with the use of the word is twofold. Firstly, there are loads of professional writers doing blogs, whether their blog is part of that professional work or not. Big assumption there – that a blogger is by definition an amateur writer.

    Secondly, that an amateur writer won’t want to become a professional one temporarily – even for a few hundred words in the MoS.

    I’m trying to be very neutral in tone about all this, as I know there are different points of view.

  25. Hmm, I wonder who’s in it today? Of course someone will have to buy it to find out, but the ‘amateur writer’ could then be emailed to tell them of their rights, so they get paid the appropriate amount. Which would be nice.

  26. A Self-Employed Writery Person

    “better form an LLC quick, fast, and in a hurry, with all the licenses that apply to a business.”

    Not true. Or at least, not in Britain. If you want to receive money for services rendered in a context other than your day job, you just ring up the tax office and tell them you are now officially self-employed. You don’t need to form a company. Indeed there’s no gain in forming a company unless your self-employed income is quite high. And you can be simultaneously both self-employed and employed-in-a-job. Once you register as self-employed, you will have to fill in an annual tax return.

    You will also have to pay National Insurance (£2.20 per week). Or, if your self-employed income is less than approx £5k per year, you can apply for a Small Earnings Exemption Certificate, and only pay NI on your day-job earnings.

    Filling in a tax return is much easier than it sounds, particularly if you are just declaring the odd cheque here and there. Do it online, and it is piss easy. Don’t do it on paper. It will make your head ache.

    Once you have declared yourself self-employed, it is well worth collecting all receipts connected to your writing activities (domain expenses, stationery, computer expenses, broadband, purchase of books etc). You may well find that, as a result of declaring all expenses, you have made a loss at the end of the year. Which means you get to claim tax back on your day-job income. Hurrah!

  27. A Self-Employed Writery Person

    P.S. If, however, you give up the day job and start being self-employed full time, DO pay NI. Even if your earnings are still low enough to qualify you for small earnings exemption. It’s only £2.20 per week, and if you don’t pay it you won’t get incapacity benefit (if you get unexpectedly ill) or Maternity Allowance, and it will affect your entitlement to state pension when you retire.

    You have to CANCEL the small earnings certificate, rather than pay “voluntary contributions”, because (for instance) Maternity Allowance will be paid at a much lower rate if there is any certificate in existence. BUT you can cancel it retrospectively and pay NI in arrears for up to two years if necessary.

    Just in case anyone needs this info, like…

  28. Not “cheeky”; illegal of course. I have this statement on my about page:

    ” * Part of an article may be quoted on others’ websites provided that they are used in context as part of a larger article, and that a link to the original is included.

    * Articles reproduced in their entirety, with or without acknowledgement, or material used as the substantive portion of an article on another website, are subject to a use fee. The minimum fee for one off use of an article £125 or $250. This fee is repeated annually unless a different arrangement is agreed in writing first.”

    Never used, of course – but it’s there if I need it. After reading this, I think I will quadruple the amounts.

  29. As a fellow victim of an MOS Blog Of The Week pillaging, I read this post with interest. I shall of course be submitting an invoice of my own now – cheers!

  30. Hullo Rol and welcome – good oh. It would be interesting to know how you get on, as I think some other people are doing the same.

    Thank you to Matt and Self-Employed writery person for the extra hints – this is becoming quite a resource!!! Which is exciting. SEWP is quite right – Chuck’s advice is quite US focused – it is very, very simple to be self-employed in Britain.

  31. I would be excited and flattered if any of my blog posts were to appear in a national newspaper. And then rather annoyed, if it were a right wing rag. And then a bit conflicted.

    But that’s no reason for said papers to take advantage of my flattered excitedness. If they make money from my writing, then I should too.

    I would likewise be ABSOLUTELY FRIGGIN’ DELIGHTED if some major publisher took one of my books and sold it to millions of people, but if they didn’t pay me anything for it, well. I might be miffed.

  32. Just to build up the resource, it’s also worth registering for VAT. You can do it voluntarily before reaching any particular limit, and if you get on the flat rate scheme the returns are extremely simple – you just pay a flat percentage of your turnover each quarter which, unless you have extraordinarily huge expenses, works out to your advantage. You can even backdate your registration by up to three years so long as you know that you can reinvoice your clients for the VAT (they won’t mind as they just claim it back in turn). The net effect is to boost your income by about 4.5% (even more in the first year when you get a 1% discount).

  33. Oh dear, I wish I understood VAT. Or your comment about it, SV.

    Sadly, I don’t.

    Eh?

    “you just pay a flat percentage of your turnover each quarter”

    So if it’s something you pay, how does it make you better off?

  34. Jonny, I am all too familiar with the Daily Mail’s tactics! I have just emailed you with my run in with them where they interviewed me without my knowledge and put me in a feature that I specifically said that I didn’t want to be involved in! They have written in their paper and on their website that I set up my blog to take evenge on my ex fiance! This is completely untrue and I specifically told them this.
    I have been reading through these comments and there are some interesting slants. The London Lite did this to me on about ten occasions but I just let it slide. At the same time though, in hindsight I realise now that I shouldn’t have particularly as they edit where they see fit without your approval to make it fit in their filler space.
    The Daily Mail are shits and I am not going to take what they have done lying down! Your post has put some extra wind in my sails so thanks!

  35. Well done, you!

    What a cheek, MoS! Mind you I notice their sister paper the DM is not adverse to pillaging flick’r and Google shots at regular intervals for double page spreads of cute animals doing stuff etc, with no attribution to photographers even – the very least they could do!

  36. Actually JonnyB, the last paragraph in your reply from The Daily Mail justifying themselves kind of echoes the attitude of our local BBC radio station in Oxford. They regularly run short story ‘competitions’ with no prizes! Or rather, being broadcast and filling their airtime for nothing is regarded as ‘reward enough’ for we vain immortals (as in not needing to eat!) who experience ecstasies at the mere thought of our name being read out.

  37. Clare – instead of selling something for £1000, you sell it for £1000 + VAT, ie £1175. The person you sell it to is happy to pay this extra as they just claim it back in turn.

    Then you pay the flat rate of 11% (depends on business sector, but this is the writers’ rate, and it’s only 10% in your first year) of this to HMRC = £129.25, leaving you with £1045.75, which is £45.75 better off.

  38. Stop whining you lot.

    The real victims here are the poor MoS readers who have to put up with all that garbage believing it to be an organ of news and topical comment. Pity the old fogies…

  39. Aha.

    I thought you could only charge VAT on actual goods though – I mean, physical things. Can you charge it for articles, editing services etc, too?

  40. It does seem a bit odd though. Are you sure you can charge 17.5% to yoiuyr customers but only pay 11% yourself? You’re not supposed to be charging at 11%?

  41. *dials tax office*

    Hullo The Poet Lauraeate and welcome!!! I have always liked your stuff.

    NML – you have scared me now…

    We don’t get the London Lite in Norfolk. So I doubt they’d be interested in me either. I shall keep a close eye on the Weasenham St Peter Informer, however.

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  43. Clare – I don’t think it makes a difference whether you’re supplying goods or services.

    The complicated way of doing VAT is that you charge 17.5% extra on your goods and services which you give to HMRC. But, you then add up all the VAT that you’ve paid on your expenses every quarter (agents fees, printer ink etc) and claim that back from HMRC. This is better than not being registered for VAT, as if you’re not registered you can’t claim back the VAT on your expenses.

    The flat rate scheme makes it simpler by just looking at the industry sector you work in and making an assumption about what your likely expenses are going to be as a proportion of your turnover, then just applying a flat rate to your turnover without you having to remember that you bought a biro last week and you want to claim back 7p VAT.

    I worked it out both ways for past years, and not only is the flat rate scheme very simple, it’s also better off than the non-flat rate scheme, as I don’t have many other expenses other than agents’ fees.

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  45. Bastards. They asked my permission to run blog extracts once. I denied it, and they ran them anyway. I never thought of sending them a bill, mind. Good on you!

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