By Jay Campbell
I bet it’s happened to most of you. Happily reading a story you found through a web search for something you’re working on, a few sentences in, you go, “I’ve heard this before. Wait, we published that!”
After another search or two, an IM to a colleague or a quick look at your own site, you confirm the material was originally under your banner.
So you revisit the post you were reading to look for the requisite citation or link. You skim past the stuff they added to the stuff they got from you and arrive at the bottom of the page, incredulous that there isn’t at least some throwaway note … a hat tip, or whatever informality professional journalism courtesy has become. But nothing.
This happened to me this month. Paragraph numbers two to four of the online article by a reputable B2B media house included several vital facts originally published in two of our articles. Those articles were based on our coverage of two conference speeches, one in 2010 and another this year. [If we were not the only reporters attending, we certainly were the only ones to write these stories. Such is the life of a niche pub!] Yet, among the original material lifted by this other B2B writer was a string of 31 words copied word for word from the second of our two articles.
So I emailed the post’s author, also editor of the site, and I included links to our articles from three years ago and March 2013. But the material wasn’t from our articles, said the editor. She got it from a PR pitch/case study, so “no further action is required” on her part, she wrote. She seemed to believe that only material between double quotes is subject to infringement claims, but I didn’t bust out the Law Of Journalism book to get all professorial on her.
I had also received the PR pitch, and at the bottom it included “References” with links to our two articles. The PR official denied that she sent out the pitch absent these and other citations of our work, and she showed me emails to prove it. The editor sent emails to prove the opposite.
She said, she said. But I said, “Now that you know the material came from us, don’t you feel it appropriate to give us credit?”
The editor believed that we both got the material from the pitch, even though the first of the relevant articles by us was three years old.
Ultimately, a boss at this reputable B2B media company stepped in and added a credit to us at the bottom, the least they could do to avoid me calling our lawyers.
I was thinking the point of this post is B2B media editors need to verify information from PR pitches and avoid just repeating them word for word. But, c’mon—duh! How about, PR officials need to make it extra clear to editors when material in a pitch is sourced? Still duh.
Oh, I know, I know: This was a ridiculous case, because most business editors would never have done such a thing … right?
Got a similar tale? Feel free to post it below.