The latest issue of North & South features an in-depth cover story on the Ewen Macdonald case that was one year in the writing. And, as often happens when a big story hits the public domain, it was picked up by the major papers, which led to a bit of a Twitter stoush between ACP and editor in chief of the Herald’s products Tim Murphy.
When ACP has a story it thinks will be of public interest, publisher of premium and specialist titles Lisa Ralph says it will send out a note to major media outlets reminding them of their obligations under copyright law and tell them how they can use the imagery (it’s also done it for the weddings of Dan Carter and Honor Dillon and Mike Hosking and Kate Hawkesby).
Essentially, she says, it’s an attempt to ensure the papers don’t steal the magazine’s thunder by “poking the eyes out of the story”(at this stage, the newspaper coverage doesn’t appear to have affected sales and she’s now planning its second print run after sell-outs all over the country).
“It happens basically every time. They always take our stories. And that’s because North & South sets the agenda.”
To promote the story, North & South tweeted: “North & South senior writer Mike White was the only journalist granted access to Ewen Macdonald’s legal team as they prepared his defence. White followed Ewan Macdonald’s parents for a year and sat through the entire trial to provide the inside story of how the case was won.”
It then retweeted Murphy: “Said story leads NZH cover today: RT @tmurphyNZH Where does ACP get off with ludicrous copyright threats over second-grade cover stories? #legalspam.”
Other media are perfectly entitled to write stories about stories, of course. And according to media law expert Steven Price, no attribution is actually legally required. The New Zealand copyright act allows for ’fair use’ for the purpose of criticism, review, news reporting, research, and private study (fair use doesn’t apply to images, however).
If big chunks of text are being lifted without attribution, then he says it becomes a question of how much is too much. And the courts have a series of objective tests to see if publications have gone too far.
But there is also what ACP’s legal counsel Genevieve O’Halloran calls an “exception to the fair use exception”, where you can’t do it if you’re trying to compete directly against the original or doing it in such a way that someone would read the newspaper story and wouldn’t need to read the story in the magazine. So, in an effort to “set the boundaries in advance”, ACP sent an email to Fairfax, APN and a couple of other major broadcasters that said:
The August issue of North & South, on sale Monday 16 July, features the article “The Death of a Dream”, which includes exclusive interviews with the family of Ewen MacDonald (Article).
We anticipate that the Article will be of high public interest. Accordingly, ACP is prepared to authorise the use of limited material from the Article.
Please find attached: (i) a press release from North & South Editor Virginia Larson; and (ii) the North & South cover image, featuring the wedding of Ewen and Anna McDonald. This cover image may be used on the condition that it is not altered in any way, and the masthead is not removed or cropped.
ACP will view any use of further material from the Article as infringement of copyright, and will act accordingly. If necessary to do so, ACP will commence proceedings, without further notice, seeking urgent interlocutory and final relief. In the event of such proceedings, ACP will bring this letter to the Court’s attention.
She says the last paragraph is legalese, and it could come across as fairly confrontational for someone who isn’t a lawyer. Murphy certainly didn’t take too kindly to the reminder or North & South’s tweets, writing: “Crewe murders leads paper. Weather leads site. N&S ok yarn for p3. Key players absent tho. Legal threat absurd.”
To which NorthSouthNZreplied: @tmurphyNZH A perfectly civil email reminding other media of law of copyright round story we’ve worked a year on does not = ‘legal threat’.” Followed by Murphy’s response: “@NorthSouthNZ yeah right.”
As Ralph points out, it’s a bit rich to call it a ‘second grade cover story’ when the Herald’s front page story was about a TV programme based on the Crewe murders, the page three story, which combined some of North & South‘s info with its own reporting, was about the ‘second grade cover story’ and the story underneath the Macdonald article was a tale about columnist Wendyl Nissen’s dead chickens.
So, perhaps not the best day for journalism. And, in what could be seen as another sad indictment on the state of today’s media, we also received this unintentionally comical email from the Screen Director’s Guild yesterday.
Hello all. It was drawn to our attention that the last press release of the same title had PDF formatting errors, where you could not cut-and-paste the text. We have hopefully resolved this issue with a new PDF. Please let us know if you have any issues with this new re-formatted copy.