Another newspaper that ignores copyright law – and ethics

The Irish Mail on Sunday has finally responded to complaints about a story it published this week based on the words of a blogging female air traffic controller: “The male chauvinist pigs of air traffic control” (PDF)

“Melanie Schregardus,” the article says, “claims she was forced to endure a torrent of sexist abuse when she and a handful of colleagues first broke into [the] profession”, and the rest of the article continues in the same vein.

The publication of the article understandably caused Melanie some distress. She wrote:

“In the middle of an incredibly trying time for my colleagues, an article has appeared in a Sunday Newspaper that says I feel abused by the people I work with. It gives me opinions that I do not have, and uses words I have never said. It does so to attack my profession, impugn my employers, and portray me as a victim of my friends.

“I feel sick. Any future employer could fairly read what Luke Byrne has written about me and conclude that I am a disloyal, untrustworthy person. The people I work with today could, and probably have, read it and decided that I am not on their side, and that I think that they are sexist, nasty, bullies. None of this is true.

In fact, she deleted her blog, before realising that, without it, there would be no record of her actual words. So she then started a new blog, with the post quoted above. Apart from her complaints about misrepresentation, and that she was never contacted about the story, she also wonders how the newspaper was able to publish a photograph of her without permission (see comments for more on this aspect). And she has complained to the ombudsman. This is where the Irish Mail’s response comes in.

The Irish Mail responds: ‘She was asking for it, mate’

Now at this point The Irish Mail could have protected its brand and claimed this was just one rogue journalist without a sub editor to keep them in check.

Instead, they have decided to dig themselves in deeper, saying:

“The photograph of Mrs Schregardus which we published to accompany this article came from Page 36 of this online magazine

“Like Mrs Schregardus’s blog, it had been put into the public domain by Mrs Schregardus herself.”

Of course, being in the public domain has no relevance to copyright. A published newspaper is ‘in the public domain’, but that doesn’t mean anyone is free to copy images from it without paying or crediting the copyright holder. You’d think newspapers would know this.

As for not contacting Mrs Schregardus, they provide an insight into the rigorous journalism practised in their newsroom:

“On Thursday, January 21, Luke Byrne [the reporter] attempted to contact Mrs Schregardus by Twitter (the only contact details he had) and asked her for an interview. On Friday, January 22, Mrs Schregardus replied. She informed Mr Byrne that she had sought permission from her trade union to speak to us. He awaited further contact from her, but he did not hear from Mrs Schregardus again. Either she chose not to speak to him or her union refused her permission to do so.”

So here we have the relentless reporter who will leave no stone unturned in his search for… hold on. “Oh, she didn’t tweet back. Well, I guess I’ve done all I could then.”

Luke Byrne's tweets to Melanie Schregardus

And finally, the misrepresentation. Incredibly, the newspaper claims

“The Irish Mail on Sunday did not attribute to Mrs Schregardus the view that her colleagues were sexist”

So that line saying that she “claims she was forced to endure a torrent of sexist abuse”?

Or the one that reveals “She went on to say that the representation of women didn’t seem to have changed much”?

Or that “She revealed that she endured one of the most pervasive forms of workplace sexism”.

Silly words. They do have an awful habit of arranging themselves in the most unusual sentences.

Same old story, different context

Of course it’s nothing new for a Sunday newspaper to take quotes out of context. Normally that someone is a public figure, and the journalist can argue that it comes with the territory. In The Irish Mail on Sunday’s response you can detect the same theme: she “published on an internet blog that was open to millions of people around the world to read,” they say.

That’s true, and some will say Mrs Schregardus should have been more cautious. I think that’s expecting a level of cynicism that we wouldn’t like to see in the average air traffic controller, but that’s a conversation for another blog post. In the meantime, it’s worth pointing out (aside from the, you know, ruining-a-person’s-life-for-a-story aspect) the long-term effects of an event like this.

Firstly, there’s the effect on the newspaper brand and journalism as a whole. Schregardus outlines how her own opinion (and now, you would expect, those of her readers) has changed as a result:

“I’m sure this happens to other people all the time. Probably people who are far more famous than me. I’ve probably read and formed opinions of other people based on things that are just not true. I’ve probably talked about other people’s lives based on things I’ve read that were hurtful to them.”

Secondly, there’s the effect on workblogging more broadly. We’ve already seen the prize-winning writings of police blogger Nightjack deleted after he was unmasked by The Times, and it’s fair to say that it’s going to be more helpful to journalists to encourage workblogging than to shop their authors – or misrepresent them – to their employers.

Because when the workblogs have gone what will you do? Pick up the phone? Luke Byrne may struggle with that.


35 thoughts on “Another newspaper that ignores copyright law – and ethics

  1. Matt Wardman

    1 – The final version of each page of here blog should, of course, be in the Google cache.
    2 – Would the Irish Mail on Sunday be owned, by any chance, by Associated? Aha, yes.
    3 – If the blog is reported accurately, then of course there can be no complaint. This is completely different, and I wish her luck.
    4 – As for the copyright stuff – well, within Associated pig-ignorance appears to be infectious in some circles.


  2. Robert Brand

    Paul, I think you should also brish up on your copyright law. The person in the picture doesn’t own the copyright; the person who took the picture does. So in this case, you could argue that Ms Schregardus – who obviously didn’t take the picture – breached copyright laws by putting it on her blog without permission of the copyright holder.
    As to “publishing a picture of her without her permission” – that is a privacy issue, not a copyright issue. And in this case the Mail is right: the picture was in the public domain, so there could be no breach of privacy.


    1. Paul Bradshaw

      Thanks. I’ve phrased it poorly, then. In her blog post Schregardus claims it is her photo – I’m not sure whether she took it with a timer (it doesn’t look like that sort of photo), or someone else took it and she misunderstands ownership. Either way, my point is that being in the public domain does not mean copyright-free. I’m not making any privacy argument about the image. Will correct the paragraph to clarify.

      1. Robert Brand

        Fair enough, but my point is that the Mail’s response was framed in terms of a privacy issue, not copyright, so to say “another newspaper doesn’t know its copyright law” is not altogether fair. The Mail knows its privacy law, whatever you (and I) may think of its journalism standards.

      2. Paul Bradshaw

        You’re right. I’ll rephrase it to say ‘another newspaper that ignores copyright law’. Or perhaps ‘Those newspaper parasites, stealing our content!’

      3. Robert Brand

        Ah, yes, and as you know, newspapers can say the same about blogs a million times a day.
        But please do not think that I am defending the Mail’s particular brand of journalism; I am not.

      4. Matt Wardman


        I think here’s some confusion here.

        (all refs below to Irish Mail on Sunday except where specified)

        1 – The wording on Ms Schregardus’ blog is “Publishing my photograph without my knowledge or consent…”. That cold mean “photograph of me”, or “photograph owned by me?”. In the former case, they need a release from her. In the latter case, it is breach of copright if she has not given permission or assigned copyright.

        2 – The online magazine carries an editorial disclaimer excluding any reproduction without permission (p2). So if the magazine owns the pic copyright, and the Mail hasn’t obtained permission, then they are in breach of *that* copyright.

        The Mail make no claim that they have obtained that permission.

        3 Therefore they are almost certainly, unless they have permission and are not stating that when criticised, in breach of copyright for the picture, even without having to worry about the article itself – which looks to me to be a breach of copyright on the written material too.

        4 The Mail justification is that material on the Internet is “in the public domain” (and therefore usable by any Tom, Dick or Harry).. This is a standard Associated boilerplate excuse also used by the UK Daily Mail, so I stand by my “pig-ignorant” comment (though “knowledgeable, but cynical or reckless” may be the actual case).

        5 – Robert, the exact Mail wording does not suggest that Mrs S put the photo on her blog. Can you show that she did? I can’t find it.

        6 – Finally, there is no indication that the Online Magazine has done anything wrong. Just noting, not stating that anyone has said that they did.

        7 – This is all subject to Irish copyright/privacy law being similar to English. Copyright law should be similar, but I’m not so sure about privacy law so I’ve not commented on that in detail. Though I note that (ho hum) English Courts might claim jurisdiction as it is all accessible online here.

        8 – Beyond all of that, not making all reasonable efforts to check the source is unprofessional. If nothing else he could have left a comment on her blog.



      5. Matt Wardman

        BTW I’d suggest that a photo of a lady and her cat in an online magazine produced by a stress management consultant probably *is* her own pic, or at least taken by a friend or partner. So arguing that *She* is breaching copyright is a little officious.

      6. Robert Brand

        It was intended as a joke, Matt – didn’t really mean she is in breach of copyright. But thanks for your clarifications. I don’t want to nitpick, but: I think from the context it is clear that she objects to the newspaper using a picture of her, rather than a picture on which she holds the copyright. That makes it, as I said, a privacy issue. And since she caused the picture to be published in the first place, she can’t lay claim to privacy. The Mail is perfectly correct to say the picture is in the public domain, and legally it is not infringing her privacy rights (in fact, she acknowledges this in her blog). It may be a breach of copyright , but whoever owns the copyright hasn’t yet complained.

        Lastly, do not assume that I am defending this brand of tabloid journalism. I am not. But there is an important lesson to be learnt here: nothing that you publish electronically is private. Saying things about your colleagues in your blog that you wouldn’t say to their faces is, well, not a good career move.

      7. Matt Wardman

        Thanks for your reply.

        I take your point of course, but I’m criticising the Daily Mail – not “newspapers”, and I try and make a point of only being so pointed when naming names.

        Also, there is the question of making a profit from violation of copyright law; I’d suggest that there is a moral difference between commercial reuse and – for example – if Paul was doing so here (even though he doesn’t).

        Certainly that difference exists in practice.

      8. Matt Wardman

        My last comment was replyng to your “blogs” point. Nested comments bah!

        Whoever owns the copyright should send the Mail an invoice then sure if necessary, as ever.

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  4. JC Dill

    I’m pretty sure the newspaper is using her photo under the Fair Use / Fair Dealing section of their local copyright laws. This allows anyone (newspaper or otherwise) to use portions of copyright protected materials for the purposes of reporting on them. Just as YOU have done here – using portions of the newspaper article, copying the photos, quoting the text. If the newspaper was wrong to use the photo, you are wrong for using it too. If you are in the right to use the photo, then the newspaper had the right to use it too.

    BTW, I’m a photographer – I know quite a bit about copyright for photos, fair use by newspapers, etc.

    1. Matt Wardman

      I don’t think Paul quotes anything from the newspaper article – merely included a pic of half of the page, which surely is the minimum necessary for proper reporting?


      1. JC Dill

        Matt, this blog starts out with: “Melanie Schregardus,” the article says, “claims she was forced to endure a torrent of sexist abuse when she and a handful of colleagues first broke into [the] profession”, and the rest of the article continues in the same vein.

        This IS quoting from the newspaper article, right? It continues all throughout the blog article. It’s copying, and it’s clearly Fair Use / Fair Dealing.

        The issue here isn’t a copyright issue, it’s about accuracy in reporting. The newspaper MADE UP quotes and attributed them to Melanie. That is what they did wrong. There is no copyright violation, and no violation of her privacy by replublishing her previously-published photo.

      2. Paul Bradshaw

        I agree – there was no violation of privacy by publishing the photo, only potential breach of copyright. As for whether that breach could come under Fair Use, I’m no lawyer, and it would be up to the courts. The Mail’s defence appears to be that this is ‘public interest’ because of the air traffic control dispute, but as a) the blog post was about air traffic control 12 years ago rather than now and b) the photo is not central to that, I’m not sure how strong the case would be (before the key factor of expensive lawyers vs cheap ones).
        My understanding is that copyright is much more stringent relating to use of news photography than it is to quoting text (I don’t think quoting from her blog is breach of copyright), but you probably know more about this as a photographer. Would appreciate any more light you can shed on it.

      3. JC Dill

        If the photo hadn’t already been published, then the newspaper would be in a different position. Because the photo was already published (on her blog) and the article was ABOUT the content of her blog (“Controller’s web diary”), then this is Fair Use in the same way they can use a photo from a book (or of the book) in an article about or review of the book.

        This is part of the Fair Use exception which allows for commentary (reviews, criticism, etc.) of copyright protected works. If you had to get permission from the entity you were commenting on, the effective result would be that we wouldn’t have a right to critique anyone else’s work as they would never grant permission to copy the work (photos, text) as part of the commentary.

      4. Paul Bradshaw

        But the photo wasn’t on her blog, it was on a completely unrelated online magazine. So an image of her blog would have been fair use, but this image falls into a grey area? I’m sure they’d win in court anyway…

  5. JC Dill

    Paul, I wasn’t aware that the photo wasn’t on her blog.

    If the photo wasn’t on her blog then yes there is a copyright issue if they took it from another source, didn’t use it for the purposes of commenting on the source (the other magazine) and didn’t obtain permission to use it. If I license a photo for editorial use to one publication and another publication decides to use it (not as commentary on the first publication) without contacting me for a license or permission, that’s not Fair Use it’s copyright infringement.

  6. Matt Wardman

    I was wrong on the quotes – sorry, had just checked the indents.

    >If I license a photo for editorial use to one publication and another publication decides to use it (not as commentary on the first publication) without contacting me for a license or permission, that’s not Fair Use it’s copyright infringement.

    That is my understanding.

  7. Rob

    Interesting that in this post slagging the Mail for ignoring copyright law, you seem to have ignored copyright law.

    I’m writing from Canada, but I’m sure copyright law governing this would be the same.

    You appear to have a partial scan of a page from the Mail reproduced on your blog. It’s always been my understanding that newspapers maintain copyright over the layout that is published, that is, the appearance of a story, with photos and headlines and cutlines, is their property, that cannot be reproduced without permission.

    Yet that’s exactly what you’ve done. Unless of course you had permission from the Mail to scan the page and post it?

    1. JC Dill

      A scan of the paper is Fair Use / Fair Dealing. It shows the way this article was presented (e.g. the 2-line 5-column headline in bold print) more accurately than just excerpting the text. It would be a copyright infringement to copy the layout of the paper for another newspaper, but it’s not a copyright infringement to show a scan of an article (including the layout) for the purpose of commentary etc.

  8. Brian

    In order to establish the manner in which the comments of the journalist distorted the blog remarks of Mrs Schregardus it is essential to show the way the Mail page lay-out suggested they were her own and not those of the reporter, e.g. the banner headline about Male Chauvinist Pigs with the intro mentioning sexist behaviour and foul language etc and the picture of Mrs Schregardus set slap-bang in the middle of it all to convey the impression that these were her sentiments. Incidentally, the picture was in her ownership and it was not on her blog but on a Paris-based online magazine – WHICH CARRIED A COPYRIGHT NOTICE (which the Mail chose to ignore!).

  9. Matt Roper

    I’ve really enjoyed the exchanges above – more useful and interesting than any copyright refresher course! But I think Paul’s original post – although not the headline – misses a wider point.

    Newspapers and their editors are often far from ignorant of copyright and privacy law. But their legal advice and decision to publish is based on risk.

    Put crudely, their judgment is not just about what is right or wrong but what they can get away with.

    Has the newspaper been sued? Not that I know of. If it is, will it face a hefty legal payout? Probably not. Will it face a privacy case? Very unlikely.

    If the worst the Irish Mail on Sunday can expect is a bill from a photographer for wrongful picture use, it is quite possible that was considered a price worth paying.

    1. Paul Bradshaw

      Sadly I know from my own experiences of media lawyers – and editors – you’re very much right. The same applies to investigative journalism: if the story is marketable enough to justify the risk, then publish and be damned. But if it’s worthy yet unpopular and risky, public interest be damned!

  10. James

    The comment on risk is spot on. Even if the Mail used the picture without permission – and they may have paid the magazine for it – what is that picture worth commercially? Nothing. There would be no damages for infringement.
    In the UK at least fair dealing for news and current affairs does not extend to photographs.

  11. Valerie Fee

    If anyone can help, I’d appreciate an email. I have a photograph of myself taken in 1968 by the Daily Mail for use in a contest they were running in the paper called “Thursday Girl”. I would like to use the photograph as the cover of my autobiography, but my publisher says I need to get permission from the Daily Mail. I have no idea how to go about this and since the picture is of me, do I really have to do this? Thanks for your assistance.

  12. Valerie Fee

    If anyone can help, I’d appreciate an email. I have a photograph of myself taken in 1968 by the Daily Mail for use in a contest they were running in the paper called “Thursday Girl”. I would like to use the photograph as the cover of my autobiography, but my publisher says I need to get permission from the Daily Mail. I have no idea how to go about this and since the picture is of me, do I really have to do this? Thanks for your assistance. (

    1. Paul Bradshaw

      Yes, even though the picture is of you the copyright is owned by the photographer and/or their employer at the time (as this was a competition, copyright is most likely held by the newspaper). Your best bet is to try the owners of the Mail, Associated Newspapers – – there is probably an image library that they can access. This is something your publisher should have some experience with.

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