Earlier this month, freelance reporter Jon Hiscock interviewed actress Emma Thompson and Thompson revealed that, according to her, when she was young she was inappropriately kissed by a magician hired to perform at her birthday party.
The personal and emotional story was picked up by the Daily Mirror, a UK newspaper, which published the interview in its entirety as an exclusive. However, according to Hiscock, that story didn’t remain exclusive for very long as the Daily Mail, a rival newspaper, ran the story in its entirety and only attributed it to “Daily Mail Reporter”, with no mention of Hiscock or The Daily Mirror.
Outraged, Hiscock wrote the editors at The Daily Mail and called the case ‘The most blatant and egregious case of plagiarism I have ever come across”. The next day, the content was rewritten but still included direct quotes from the interview and there was still no attribution to Hiscock or The Daily Mirror.
Eventually, the Daily Mail responded saying that there was attribution in the original version of the story, disputing Hiscock’s claims, and that it was removed accidentally in the rewrite. However, no explanation was offered as to how the verbatim interview ended up on their site in the first place.
The Daily Mail did add that an executive will be calling Hiscock to explain and apologize. The history and competition between these papers is well known. Journalism in the UK is often a very dirty game with papers trying to steal each other’s scoop. In many cases this fight has involved dubious lifting of content but rarely has it gone as far as to copy and paste whole articles verbatim, as is being accused here.
The incident and the response, unfortunately, speaks lowly of The Daily Mail’s policies on attribution and content reuse. While the paper certainly was within its rights to cover the story, for it to lift the interview verbatim and then omit that attribution when pushed to rewrite the story, both of which the paper admits to, indicates a culture at the newspaper that doesn’t respect the accepted rules of attribution and reuse in journalism.
While these rules are certainly being stretched and tested in the hectic news climate that exists today, one that calls on publications to create more content even as staff numbers dwindle, this type of abuse of content is still almost unheard of, especially from a major publication.
Hopefully the incident will give The Daily Mail, as well as other newspapers, pause to evaluate their policies on reusing/attributing content and how they enforce them. There is simply no excuse for a mistake of this calibre to be made by a major publication. Simply put, even if we set aside the ethical issues, reuse of a whole article in this way is almost certainly a copyright infringement and could, at least theoretically, land a newspaper in court.
So even if a publication doesn’t care enough about its reputation to avoid this kind of plagiarism, it should at least care about the potential legal consequences, which can be very dire for even one case of flagrant infringement.