Sunday Telegraph plagiarism story

The Sunday Telegraph, byline banditry and a spot of ‘plagiarism…’

How Patrick Sawer, a journalist at the Sunday Telegraph lifted my story …

Sunday Telegraph plagiarism story
The Sunday Telegraph printed almost 1000 lifted words…

Story about man finding he had a womb made a nice FREE page lead for the Sunday Telegraph.

People mistakenly believe broadsheets are sometimes more ‘credible’ than the tabloids…

As an extremely busy real-life journalist maybe I should be flattered Sunday Telegraph journalist Patrick Sawer saw fit to lift a story of mine pretty much word for word as it made a 923 word super page lead for him. Maybe Patrick Sawer was congratulated by the editor for his excellent piece, the quotes or his research. Perhaps he proudly showed his friends and family his byline on a story that made a page lead.

He might claim a sub put his name on his story by mistake. Yet certainly he was proud enough of his ‘work’ to tweet the story TWICE as if it were his own.

So should Patrick Sawer and The Sunday Telegraph have lifted the story as they did or not? What happens if you are writing a blog or you are a journalist. Should you expect your copy will be lifted, should you bother to say anything and does it matter?

I have written about byline banditry before – and of course quite often parts of my stories which appear in the national press every week are often lifted. In fact using parts of copy or articles is perfectly legal. Under the law of Fair Usage, using part of the copy in news reporting – seen as ‘fair dealing’ is acceptable. And indeed The Sunday Telegraph was not the only newspaper or website to report on this story.

However, they were the only paper to actually copy so much – an extraordinary 923 words – and even print it the next day.  Because what is not deemed as legally ‘fair’ is to reproduce the whole amount or such a substantial part as in this case. And this is why I am writing this – as the amount that was used was extraordinary.

I can imagine, despite what the public often perceives about broadsheets being more ‘trustworthy’ than a tabloid  (mistakenly, in my view)  that the Sunday Telegraph would not be interested in paying me for a story – since they clearly feel they have the right to reproduce almost 1000 words however they wish for free.

Nevertheless, legally it could be argued that The Sunday Telegraph has denied me the revenue from it. I put a huge amount work into that story (which was The Sun splash and went over two pages.)  That story was found by me – it was my creation, my copyright.  In other words if the Sunday Telegraph were going to use such a large amount of copy including quotes from the interviewee – and go as far as to print it in the paper as a main story – they should have paid for it.

Patrick Sawer lifts and copies journalist's story
Patrick proudly tweets ‘his story’…

The Sunday Telegraph should also give sufficient acknowledgement to the source. In this case the Sunday Telegraph did credit The Sun (they clearly believe this is sufficient and this is how they would defend themselves) but failed to credit the reporters – which they should do.

But the greater issue here is – is reproducing so much copy as they did right morally? Plagiarism – and in my opinion lifting so much of my story is plagiarism and not fair dealing – is something every child learns at school is totally wrong. It is drummed into students you must source all essays carefully and if you are found to have blatantly copied an article, then you will find yourself in deep trouble.

And if I were Patrick Sawer and my editor had asked me to stick my name on top of that story, I would have refused. Why? Because my conscience would niggle that firstly I hadn’t checked a word of it out (I would never put my name to something I could not say 100 per cent was accurate) and secondly ethically I would feel it is wrong – because I know it is not my story.

Certainly I wouldn’t have the gall as he did to have tweeted the story as my own – especially if I had added no extra value to it at all – for example I’d not done any extra research whatsoever or even attempted to check out the facts.

Fortunately though it isn’t something I have to worry about – put simply, in 30 years of journalism I have never put my name on top of someone else’s story. But then I don’t have to byline bandit other peoples’ stories  or lift someone else’s work to make myself look good as I have enough stories of my own.

However, I do feel how the Sunday Telegraph behaved is something that is in the public interest and as an ethical journalist with strict self-imposed policies, believe no-one should get away with…

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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