The Times Live in South Africa has Plagiarized My Work and I’m Pissed
By Dave Fox
Plagiarism and intellectual property theft are rampant on the Internet. It’s especially sad when large and respected newspapers think they can get away with it.
I did a Google search for the word “Globejotting” the other day. I do this from time to time to see what people are saying about my book. I was surprised to discover a photo I took in Johannesburg, South Africa, was being used without my consent, and without crediting me by name as the photographer, at timeslive.co.za – the online edition of The Times and The Sunday Times in South Africa.
Amateur bloggers steal photos from other websites all the time. Some of these bloggers know they’re not supposed to. Others don’t realize using someone else’s work without permission violates international copyright laws. While even beginning bloggers need to understand this is illegal, for editors at a major newspaper to rip off hard-working freelancers is inexcusable.
The Sunday Times is South Africa’s biggest weekly newspaper. According to MediaClub South Africa, The Sunday Times has a circulation of more than 460,000 copies, and an estimated weekly readership of 3.8 million people. So the editors there, we can assume, are not amateurs. We can assume they know it’s illegal – and sleazy – to steal a freelance photographer’s work.
My photo, of a billboard ad for Castle Lager, appeared in an article by a writer named TJ Strydom, entitled “Don’t ban-boozle us.” The article is about a proposed ban on alcohol advertising in South Africa. Times Live then used the same photo a second time on another page with a letter-to-the-editor-style response to the article.
I know they used it on their website. I am curious as to whether they used it in their print edition too. Normally, online photographs don’t reproduce well in print because the resolution is too low. It turns out, however, I inadvertently uploaded a high-resolution version of this picture to my website, which could have been used in print.
In the online edition, the photo included the following caption:
“Alcohol advertising could be a thing of the past. File photo
Image by: http://www.globejotting.com/midnight-in-johannesburg”
The image was not taken by “http://www.globejotting.com/midnight-in-johannesburg.” The image was taken by me. I am a human, not a URL. My name is Dave Fox. I’m a professional freelance travel writer and photographer. By “professional,” I mean… people pay me for my work.
I should not have to explain copyright laws to the Times Live editors, but for the benefit of my readers who are not professional writers, here is the basic rule about using photos from somebody else’s website on your website: If the person who owns the rights to the photo (the photographer, unless he or she has sold or signed away those rights) has not given you permission to use the photo, you can’t do it. Period. Even if you do credit the photographer, even if you include, in the caption, the words, “Photo by Dave Fox,” or the link where you found it, if the photographer has not given you permission to use his or her photo, using it is illegal.
(There are exceptions , such as publicity photos of celebrities, and pictures a photographer has released under Creative Commons guidelines. Neither are the case here.)
This rule applies to everyone. This rule applies to blogs that get 23 readers a year. It also applies to newspapers with an estimated 3.8-million readers per week.
And the Times Live editors should know this – not only because they’re representing a huge newspaper, but because, according to their website, all employees of their parent company, Times Media, are required to sign a 23-page document agreeing to the company’s editorial policies.
From that document:
“Plagiarism is a breach of the trust our readers have in us and reflects badly on the entire newspaper. Reporters caught plagiarising will face disciplinary action and, possibly, dismissal. Columnists and occasional contributors will not be used by the newspaper if they are caught plagiarising. A first offence will result in disciplinary action.”
So… where do we go from here?
To the Times Live editors: I want the following:
1) An apology on your website, and in your newspaper if you used the photo in print.
2) 500 US dollars – more than newspapers usually pay for freelance photographs, but that’s when they purchase them legally. You didn’t buy this photo. You took it without asking. I’m asking for this token amount to give you the opportunity to redeem yourself and demonstrate an understanding of media integrity. This money will compensate me for the use of my photograph, as well as the time I’m spending dealing with this issue.
Some people will wonder why I get so uptight about this sort of thing. Yeah, I know this article is ranty. The photo is question is a crappy photo, shot from a moving taxi during a rain storm. But it’s scary when newspapers think it’s okay to steal people’s work. It’s arrogant and slimy. And in an age when swiping other people’s words or photos is as easy as cutting and pasting or a quick download, if publications this big get away with this sort of thing, it drags down the entire publishing industry.
A former journalism professor of mine commented when I mentioned this incident on Facebook that Times Media probably has plenty of lawyers to help them slither out of this kind of awkward situation. That may be true. But the Times Live website also states:
“Times LIVE subscribes to the South African Press Code that prescribes news that is truthful, accurate, fair and balanced. If we don’t live up to the code please contact the Press Ombudsman.”
Times Live: You claim to respect media ethics, so prove it – by owning up to committing one of the most fundamental no-nos in journalism, and making amends.
I’m sending a copy of this article to the editors at Times Media, as well as the South African Press Ombudsman. Stay tuned to Globejotting.com. I’ll follow up with an article on their response.
Pathetic behavior? Yeah. And hilarious too. Read the funny side of this story here.