Ask the Experts 1: David Banks on media law

Many thanks to David Banks, co-author of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, for these answers, and to those of you who sent questions.

Is a commercial website such as a newspaper’s able to use even a few seconds of a song or piece of music without having to pay royalties? A common belief used to be that as long as the clip was under 30 seconds you were ok…
The defence here is fair dealing. It works for printed material, extracts of books, plays,  films etc. So long as your extract does not extract the entire value of the original material  you should be ok. Remember you have to accredit

the original source. One of the key cases in this was when Sky bought up footie rights for the first time. The BBC wanted to run short bits of games for their results on the news. Sky sued, the BBC won, court said it was ok as long as they were short pieces properly accredited to Sky. NB there’s no fair dealing in photos, as you extract a photos entire value when you print it.

If a site lifts a video from Youtube can that cause legal problems in terms of copyright etc?
It’s the original maker’s copyright. Placing a video on Youtube does not license people to rip it off. Question is likelihood of detection, which in most cases is small, but dependent on the size of your site and visitor numbers, cannot be ignored.

If a person makes a comment on a Facebook fan page for a  publication which is officially managed by that publication are we open to libel or other legal problems?
Not really, no, you’re not the publisher of the fan page, Facebook is.

If we use photos shared on Facebook (which may only be available to ‘friends’ of the individual concerned) are we open to any legal problems? 
Yes, breach of copyright by whoever originally took the photo. Posting on Facebook does not create a creative commons licence.

What are the dangers of related articles online re: spent convictions? It is feasible for a story  about an individual to return a flight of links to old stories which could highlights spent convictions. While references wouldn’t be explicit in the copy there would be a definite association.
Yes, an archive search might turn up a spent conviction. But remember the claimant has to show that you were ‘malicious’ in publishing it. Maintaining an archive of news stories is not malice, so the action wouldn’t get anywhere. Anyway, if this was a possibility it would have happened by now, we’ve had t’internet and Rehab of Offenders Act for some time and no-one has sued in such circumstances yet. So v unlikely to happen now.

Should we pre- or post-moderate comments on our websites?
Post moderate in my opinion, and have means by which questionable content can be flagged by users.

If we choose to post-moderate and notice something legally problematic should we remove it instantly? If we don’t, but have  the facility for a comment to be hidden from view by any user who takes offence are we any safer from potential legal issues?
Slightly safer, but generally once published the cat’s out of the bag.

What are the legal challenges facing community-run hyperlocal news sites (such as and how you would advise they overcome these? What, for example, are the legalities of reporting police speech made at a Residents’ Association/Neighbourhood Watch meeting? Or are there differing technicalities to each?
SR2 blog and other hyperlocal sites have the same defences as any other news corporations at public meetings – qualified privilege for a fair accurate report on a matter of public interest.  It’s a public meeting, you can report it without getting sued for libel. I think issues for hyperlocal come where community is engaged and generating content – possible problems are libel and contempt because contributors simply don’t know the rules. To overcome I
would give contributors access to some clear dos and don’ts, and I’d keep an eagle eye on stuff going up on site in sensitive topics. No easy answer I’m afraid.


  1. 1 psmith, journalist › links for 2010-01-28

    […] Ask the Experts 1: David Banks on media law « Adventures in digital journalism Can you use 30 secs of audio without payment? "The defence here is fair dealing. It works for printed material, extracts of books, plays, films etc. So long as your extract does not extract the entire value of the original material you should be ok. Remember you have to accredit" […]

  2. 2 Search Engine Optimisation – ask the expert « Adventures in digital journalism

    […] Ask the Experts 1 – David Banks on media law for digital journalists Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)A Reason For You to Find an SEO ExpertsRaleigh […]

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