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Emily LakdawallaMay 29, 2014

Daily Mail plagiarizes Planetary Society Blog guest post by Katherine Mack

The Daily Mail is a British tabloid with a very large circulation both in print and online. Its website also has a horrible track record of plagiarizing content from other sites. They take entire articles, rewrite them to change literal text but maintain content, structure, and illustrations, and post them under an in-house author's byline, frequently without any credit to the original author. Publishing such derivative works is, apparently, part of their ordinary way of doing business; just do a Google search on "Daily Mail plagiarism" to find countless victims.

The practice hit home for The Planetary Society last week. Astrophysicist Katherine Mack wrote an article for The Planetary Society Blog on Fast Radio Bursts, published on May 14, that was copied by the Daily Mail's Jonathan O'Callaghan and published on May 16. The most insulting thing about the plagiarism is that O'Callaghan's one addition of original content was a tacked-on interview of a self-styled UFO expert who speculated about aliens being responsible. It's quite a trick to copy material and still get things completely wrong. Previous victims in the space blogger community have included Robert Pearlman of Collectspace (original here, Daily Mail copy here) and Tariq Malik of space.com.

The Planetary Society does not exercise exclusive copyright over the contributions of guest bloggers (or other guest contributors to the website, such as astrophotographers or image processors); copyright remains with the content producer, in this case, Katherine. She wrote a letter telling the Daily Mail exactly what she thought of their actions, emailing it to them earlier this week. I don't know if it will get through. Funnily enough, the Daily Mail doesn't have a "contact us if you think we have stolen your article" email address.

Dear Sir or Madam,

You have plagiarized a work that I own the copyright of. The name of the article derived from the plagiarism is “Are these mystery radio bursts messages from ALIENS? Freak frequency from outside the Milky Way baffles astronomers”. It appears on a site operated by you at [link]. I have reserved all rights to my original work, which was first published on [link] on 14 May 2014. The piece that appears on your website derives the bulk of its content and structure from my original work and research.

Your use of my work, which appears at the link above, is unauthorized. You neither asked for nor received permission to copy/adapt the piece nor to make or distribute copies of them in the manner you have. Furthermore, you have taken credit for my work and caused confusion as to whom the original author of the work is. Therefore, I believe you have wilfully infringed my rights under 17 USC §101, et seq. and could be liable for statutory damages as high as $100,000. Further, such copyright infringement is a direct violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and International Copyright Law.

I demand that you immediately cease the use and distribution of the work and all copies of it, that you remove any further works you may have stolen and that you desist from this or any other infringement of my rights in the future. Furthermore, I demand that you post an apology on the site clarifying who the author of the original work is and that you inform others that might have been misled by your misuse of the works’ origins.

If you prefer to maintain the piece on your website – with the attribution clearly stated and a link to the original piece – I will accept a payment at the level of £400 for the reuse of my material.

If I have not received proof of compliance from you within 72 hours, I shall consider taking the full legal remedies available to rectify this situation including contacting my lawyer and/or your site’s administrators.

Sincerely, 

Katherine J. Mack

Will they pay attention? Doubtful. But let it be known that both Katherine and I, as her editor, are outraged. Content aggregation is a common feature of the modern Internet. I do it all the time, in order to amplify the voices of people who are telling great stories; you'll see many guest posts here at The Planetary Society Blog that originated elsewhere. But they're always here with permission from the original author, under the original author's byline, with a link back to the original post. Or, if under my byline, the original material will be quoted, credited, and sourced. It's so easy to do. And, if I mess up, it's easy to fix. Not to give credit to content creators is shameful, not to fix uncredited material when it's been pointed out to you doubly so.

The Daily Fail
The Daily Fail
Source: The Daily Mail

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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