Watch out for survey alert

Have you had work ripped off?

TO PLAGIARISE is defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary as "to take or use (the thoughts, writings, inventions etc of another person) as one's own". In the context of journalism, that would typically be someone else writing up your story, on which you worked so hard, without crediting you.

That's annoying. In academia, a flagrant culprit would be liable to be expelled for a serious breach of ethics. But it's not necessarily illegal. (And, as far as we can tell, the word "plagiarism" does not appear in any UK law and nor do "plagiarise", "plagiarize", etc.)

Nor should it necessarily be illegal: think for a moment about the times when you have had to draw on other journalists' work as background for a story; or when you have been grateful for one newspaper alerting you to another's exclusive. See www.londonfreelance.org/fl/quoting.html for a brief guide to the rules on quoting.

It is, of course, a breach of copyright when someone uses the whole, or "a substantial part", of your work without asking or paying. What is "a substantial part" can only be decided with certainty by going to court: any part of a photo is likely to be regarded as "substantial". And it's illegal for someone to put their byline on your words or picture under their name, though there's distressingly little case-law to clarify what the letter of the law means.

Following a vote at the last NUJ Delegate Meeting, the union's Freelance Industrial Council will soon be surveying members to find out who has suffered plagiarism. It'll be asking for details of rip-offs of both the annoying and the illegal variety. Watch your inbox - or come back here - for details, and please do complete the survey.

And see the letter on page 6, also, about the interesting challenge of finding rip-offs of work that has been translated into other languages. In case it hadn't occurred to you, those who want to translate your work must seek your permission and negotiate payment with you.

Last modified: 09 Oct 2013 - © 2013 contributors
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