Copyright violation: are you a victim?

In January last year, two of my blog posts were used in a leading British Chinese newspaper without my consent. Luckily, this copyright violation issue had a swift solution and a happy ending.

Following the publicity of the Chinese Tiger Mum, Amy Chua, with her controversial book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, my friend Shi wrote a brilliant post – Tiger Mum, Chinese, and Sense of Security (虎妈,华人,安全感). I also wrote 2 posts – Chinese Tiger Mums in Britain — are we too anxious? (英国的中国虎妈 -- 我们是不是太焦虑了?), and What do the white British kids do during their spare time? (英国白人小孩休闲时做什么?)

A week later, my friend Shi discovered that the three posts above had been used in an editorial in a British Chinese newspaper, UK-Chinese Times. However, the editor of the newspaper had never contacted us for consent and they had never interviewed us. In the editorial, our blogs were never mentioned. In the original published editorial, we were referred to as a Madam Shi and a Madam Zhang.

How was this matter resolved?

My friend sent a letter to the journalist, highlighting our intellectual properties. Shi did some math and she calculated that the editorial contained 11.28% from her writing, and 25.1% from my writing, without proper citation and references.

We received an instant email with a sincere apology. The journalist explained how she only had one hour of sleep the previous night due to her workload and, on that particular occasion, normal procedures of checking and seeking consent were not followed due to the intensity of her work. She apologised for her mistake. She sought our understanding and accepted full responsibility for the mistake.

She was so apologetic and felt so ashamed that I almost felt ‘bad’ about making such a fuss. However, my friend and I did the right thing by voicing our complaint about the violation of our copyright.

I could have made the same mistake

I also understood how the mistake was make — and everyone has the potential of making the same careless mistake — not out of malice, ignorance, stupidity or laziness, but out of mental exhaustion and heavy workload.

The newspaper updated their online edition immediately, citing their references and highlighted our great contribution to the editorial. They also volunteered to pay for our writing fee. I received around £20 for our joint fee. This matter had a happy ending.

Copyright Violation Word Cloud. Text from Lorelle's post. Blog Exercises by Lorelle on WordPress.

Copyright Violation Word Cloud. Text from Lorelle’s post.

Johann Hari: the price of using unattributed quotes

Later I wrote another blog post – How serious are the consequences of plagiarism? (剽窃文字,后果有多严重?) In this post, I used Johann Hari, journalist of The Independent newspaper, as an example.

In July 2011, Johann Hari was suspended pending investigation after allegations of plagiarism and use of unattributed quotes. He also returned The Orwell Prize for Journalism 2008.

Johann Hari’s mistake was using unattributed quotes. In his own words, according to The Economist,

“I did two wrong and stupid things. The first concerns some people I interviewed over the years. When I recorded and typed up any conversation, I found something odd: points that sounded perfectly clear when you heard them being spoken often don’t translate to the page. They can be quite confusing and unclear. When this happened, if the interviewee had made a similar point in their writing (or, much more rarely, when they were speaking to somebody else), I would use those words instead. At the time, I justified this to myself by saying I was giving the clearest possible representation of what the interviewee thought, in their most considered and clear words.”

“But I was wrong. An interview isn’t an X-ray of a person’s finest thoughts. It’s a report of an encounter. If you want to add material from elsewhere, there are conventions that let you do that. You write “she has said,” instead of “she says”. You write “as she told the New York Times” or “as she says in her book”, instead of just replacing the garbled chunk she said with the clear chunk she wrote or said elsewhere. If I had asked the many experienced colleagues I have here at The Independent – who have always been very generous with their time – they would have told me that, and they would have explained just how wrong I was. It was arrogant and stupid of me not to ask.”

Has your content ever get stolen? Do you know your legal rights when someone steals your writing, or your images? If you would like to know what to do if someone violates your copyright, you must read Lorelle’s new post today – How  to respond to a copyright violation. It’s clear; it’s sharp.

You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.

Related Posts:

Taking a risk with what you blog about (by Lorelle VanFossen)
Who is FANG Zhouzi? Meet The John Maddox Prize winner
What is ‘censoriousness’ according to Rowan Atkinson?
Do sex, age and race matter?
Honouring Nelson Mandela: Make Everyday a Mandela Day


12 thoughts on “Copyright violation: are you a victim?

  1. Opalla

    Good for you, Janet and your friend for pinning the writer down. I find it amazing that your friend found it out in the first place.

  2. Janet Williams Post author

    This is the major newspaper for the Chinese community in the UK and the paper is free of charge. I’m pleased that my friend spotted this. She did proper research of the extent of our writing was being used without consent and citation, and she was the driving force to put things right. I’m thankful for her determination (and I got to keep the money.)

  3. Ruby

    I find the journalists’ excuse of lack of sleep, tight deadlines, etc. a bit poor. It is her profession; she should be well-versed on copyright issues whether or not she has had any sleep. it is a bit different for us lay writers who my not have had the same opportunities to learn the rules. Having said that, you were satisfied with the outcome; and the paper was quick to correct the infringement.

    On a slightly different aspect, a few months ago I saw a cartoon that would have been brilliant for a course I was teaching. Unfortunately, it was copyright and, even though i would have shown it to only a dozen students, I decided not to use it.

    1. Janet Williams Post author

      I was happy with the outcome — as I could see it was a human error and her sincerity touched me. To be honest, someone of a higher position should have shouldered the responsibility, but all communication were between three of us only. The online edition could have improved more, but I’m happy as our proper names were used, we were properly acknowledged as the major contributors, and quotations were attributed to us accordingly after the update. Our blog names were not mentioned; no links were provided. But these didn’t concern me. The main issues were sorted; an improvement was made. I was ok.

      Of course, I would expect a journalist to be more thorough and more aware when accessing and using information. However, some people may not have enough training, or they may be unaware of the problem, or maybe some non English newspapers have different rules and function differently — do we all observe the same rules in copyright? Are there universal rules? In an ideal world, of course, but as I grew up in a different culture, I felt that we perhaps couldn’t accept that everyone abide by the rules that we take for granted.

  4. Lorelle VanFossen

    I have to agree with Ruby. Do we excuse a robber taking our stereo or stealing our car because he was having a bad day? Professionals are required to have ethics and standards or risk their jobs. Thank you for pointing out a prime example.

    Thank you for bringing this up to your readers to help educate them. We live in a society and time that tends to be very forgiving of many “minor” threats to moral values and societal behaviors, and some leniency is welcome compared to a harsh, dictatorial culture. But theft is theft. I’m thrilled that this was handled so well. It is a great example of how things can be handled easily when it comes to protecting your content.

    You are certainly having fun with Wordles. I love that hand. Beautiful.


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