Legal fight could change digital practices

Media industry executives are closely following legal arguments between News Corp Australia and the Daily Mail Online in regard to content News says was appropriated from its digital sites by the British publisher’s Australian arm.

News Corp lawyers have sent Associated Newspapers, the publisher of the Mail Online, a legal letter with around 10 examples of Mail Online articles that News Corp alleged used exclusive content from News Corp mastheads without satisfactory acknowledgement. News Corp also threatened legal action over what it says are breaches of copyright and intellectual property should the Mail not agree to “cease and desist from copying original content produced by News Corp journalists”.

The letter was also sent to British Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre and Mail Online’s Australian editor Luke McIlveen.

A spokesperson from the Daily Mail Australia told The Newspaper Works that the company had received the legal complaint from News Corp and was in the process of reviewing it. The spokesperson said it would respond through the company’s lawyers in due course.

Stories cited in the letter include two articles by Daily Telegraph sports editor-at-large Phil Rothfield, including one revealing Ian Thorpe would be commentating at the Commonwealth games, one on Sonny Bill William’s secret wedding and also one on Shane Warne’s new girlfriend.

The letter also cited a story by The Sunday Telegraph’s fashion editor Prue Lewington that it says was appropriated and republished under a different byline at the Daily Mail Online.

If the action leads to litigation it could force substantial changes to current editorial practices adopted by digital brands. These practices currently allow for grabs on the basis of fair use of content in the public domain, with an attribution and possibly a hyperlink.

If it proceeds, it would be up to a court to decide the extent of fair usage or even the legality of picking up copy from other publishers – a move that would impact on all entities.

News Corp Australia content sits behind a paywall, which also complicates the issue as the Daily Mail Online’s stories that are allegedly lifted from News Corp content are available online for free.

A spokesperson for News Corp Australia told The Newspaper Works that the company has “taken this action because we believe the Daily Mail Australia is breaching our copyright by lifting substantial slabs of original content from a large number of articles from our mastheads.”

The newspapers from which the Mail Online is accused of having taken content include The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Courier-Mail and The Advertiser.

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