To the memory hole with Julie Burchill!

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 14 January 2013

Two minor footnotes to the Suzanne Moore / Julie Burchill brouhaha, which developed further today with the Observer removing the article from guardian.co.uk.

What value user comments?

As well as unpublishing the original article, the Observer have unpublished the reader comments underneath it “in line with our deletion process”. It is true that the guardian.co.uk terms and conditions state of user submitted content that “We, or authorised third parties, reserve the right to refuse to publish, cut, crop or edit your content at our or their sole discretion. We may remove your content from use at any time.”

However, I feel they’ve acted in bad faith here.

A lot of people were made very angry by the article. A lot of users, including myself, spent time and effort composing a response to the article. In my case I thought it was important to state that as someone who still sometimes writes for guardian.co.uk, I wouldn’t have expected to be able to use the same kind of language that Julie did and be published. To have all that swept into the same memory hole as the original articles smacks of an additional disregard for an already offended audience, who cared enough to respond.

Is re-posting the article on The Telegraph legal?

The article hasn’t disappeared from the web altogether however, as Toby Young has republished it in full on his newly re-launched Telegraph blog. That raises an interesting question about copyright. Toby’s blog post states: “Julie Burchill has given me permission to reprint the article the Observer has seen fit to unpublish. This is the full text.”

I do wonder if the permission is hers to give.

She may well have a contract that allows her to retain the copyright on what she has written for the paper, but the GNM standard terms appear to state: “You may re-use your Commissioned Contribution during the term of the Licence, provided that our Syndication Department is consulted and there is no conflict of interest.”

I’m guessing they haven’t been, and that there is.

Either way, another useful note for next time the news industry is bitterly complaining about people abusing the terms and conditions under which they publish content on the web. If they don’t respect each others, why would anybody else respect theirs?

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