Copyright: gloves off in journalism row.

A row is erupting

Australia’s largest newspaper group, News Corporation, and its new local online competitor, Daily Mail Australia are involved in an increasingly bitter row. This commotion highlights important issues over journalism in a digital environment – and it is being played out in public. News Corporation has gone so far as to accuse Daily Mail Australia of breaching copyright.

Daily Mail Australia

The strategy of Daily Mail Australia is for its free offering to become a one-stop shop for news and entertainment. In this respect, it has been suggested that its content is based on reproducing and collating the work of other media organisations. To that end, its journalists are required to scour newspapers, magazines and websites for content to publish. Most importantly, the original source must be credited fairly high up in the piece and a hyperlink included where possible. It is these requirements that appear influence Daily Mail Australia’s rejection of News Corporation’s allegations.

Heightened competition

It is interesting to note that Daily Mail’s Australian readership now ranks sixth1 in Australian news websites and it only launched in January 2014. One wonders whether this has thrown fuel to the fire.

Spoof scoop defence

The practice of reproducing stories from rival newspapers has a history pre-dating the digital age. Popular newspapers in Fleet Street were known to have ‘stolen’ each other’s stories when the first editions landed (hence the need for those famous spoof front pages to conceal scoops). In this context, it has proved difficult for rival newspapers in the UK to make a case against the Daily Mail. Australia, however, doesn’t have the antagonistic editorial history of Fleet Street. That may just be another reason why News Corporation has complained so vehemently and threatened to sue.

Australian cases

There are few Australian cases involving claims of ‘stolen’ newspaper stories of this type. In 2009, Fairfax accused Business Spectator of plagiarism for publishing summaries of its articles. Business Spectator, now owned by News Corporation, still publishes summaries of articles in its news section and is now seen as par-for-the-course in online news.

Fair dealing

There is a fair dealing exemption in section 42(1) of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth)2 for the reporting of news which states as follows:

‘A fair dealing with a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, or with an adaptation of a literary, dramatic or musical work, does not constitute an infringement of the copyright in the work if:
(a) it is for the purpose of, or is associated with, the reporting of news in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical and a sufficient acknowledgement of the work is made; or
(b) it is for the purpose of, or is associated with, the reporting of news by means of a communication or in a cinematograph film.’

Any copying of copyright works should be considered according to what is a ‘fair’ proportion of something to use. It will be a question of fact to determine whether this exemption would apply in these circumstances.


News Corporation accuses Daily Mail Australia of lifting quotes first published to News Corporation reporters. But it is not necessarily clear whether News Corporation has the copyright on the quotes in the first place. In fact, it may be that Daily Mail Australia has presumed that the speaker of the quoted comment owns the copyright in such comments and not the newspaper.

One to watch

This journalistic argument has wide-ranging implications for the media in the digital age – a fascinating spat that if nothing else, will continue to produce some excellent quotes.

Nielson ‘SMH Tops Online News Rankings’ 

Copyright Act 1968 (Cth)

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Posted on: 20 June 2014