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When copyright theft is criminal

WE HAVE an interesting new twist on copyright infringement, involving only the second set of criminal charges for copyright violation that the Freelance has encountered in a quarter of a century. Aaron Jack of Darlington set up a website that he called the North East News Agency. As Rachel Conner-Hill reports in the Northern Echo, this consisted of news stories copied from Echo and passed off as his own work. Each page sought a "voluntary financial contribution to support the work of North East Alternative News", claiming that this would "allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories".

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The actual Northern Echo reports on the rip-off of the Northern Echo

Darlington Council's Trading Standards office charged Jack with fraud. He pleaded guilty, but said he had not received any donations.

He had another site called www.woofwoofphotography.uk (not to be confused with www.woofwoofphotography.co.uk). There he offered "professional photographic services" including wedding and prom portraits - promoted, as fair trading and financial investigations officer Shaun Trevor told the court, with professional photographers' images used without their permission, and passed off as his own work.

Shaun Trevor told the Northern Echo that "The use of these high-quality photographs to advertise his website and photography services was clearly an attempt to mislead the public into using his services. Having seen examples of Aaron's photographs it is likely that anyone purchasing his actual services would be very disappointed in the results."

Aaron Jack pleaded guilty to fraud and to two charges of publishing images which he knew were infringing copyright. He was fined £50 for each of the three offences and ordered to pay costs of £572.28 and a victim surcharge of £32.

Both websites have now disappeared, oddly leaving no trace. A search of the Northern Echo site reveals that someone called Aaron Jack was two years ago investigated for possible fraud in relation to claims of charitable activity.

Northern Echo editor Karl Holbrook commented: "In an age of fake news, it is so important that people know and trust where their news comes from. I congratulate Darlington Council for tackling this flagrant breach of that trust and clear attempt to pass of the hard work of trained Northern Echo journalists as their own."

Shaun Trevor told rhe Freelance: "Darlington Trading Standards will investigate all complaints that it receives and where appropriate institute legal proceedings. I am pleased that the judgement in this case sends out a message that there are consequences for criminal behaviour and that intellectual property rights must be respected." The Freelance is still hoping to hear from the phootographers and other journalists whose work was abused.

As the Freelance understands it, none of the copyright owners has - yet - followed the usual route of a civil case seeking compensation for use of the words and pictures. Could criminal charges for copyright violation - and indeed for fraud - sometimes be a stronger deterrent?