Police fail: Copyright? What is that?

Great against street crime. Apparently less so in copyright matters.

I was doing some research on various topics a while ago, and stumbled across a rather disturbing find. On a site run for and by police officers (specifically, the Special Constabulary - a voluntary police force, whose members have full police powers, including the power of arrest), there's a forum called 'news', where its members post news stories related to policing in the UK.

The interesting case from the perspective of copyright law is that the forum members routinely break the law by infringing the copyrights of the news organisations publishing the news stories.


All the below posts were posted not by 'ordinary' forum users, but by users who have a badge marking them out as 'serving police officers'. To get that badge, you apparently have to identify yourself to the forum moderators as a bona fide UK serving police officer.

The below are only the articles posted by serving police officers (there were also a lot of ones posted by people who haven't identified themselves as such), between June 1 and June 12th of 2011.

  1. Young PC arrested over 'death threats', with text from the Kensington & Chelsea Informer.
  2. Epsom Derby racegoer injured as train is stopped, with text from BBC News
  3. 2012 Olympic torch police counselling, this time with text from BBC News.
  4. PC Attacked 'Urinating French Tourist', with text from BBC News.
  5. 'Shooting' near submarine HMS Astute in Southampton with text from BBC News.
  6. Cable Burns Man 'Unrecognisable', with text and images from BBC News
  7. Inspector Admits Wife Assault, with text and images from BBC News
  8. Shocking!, with text and images from the Daily Mail
  9. Sentencing plans scrapped with text and images from the Daily Mail
  10. Babar Ahmad police officers not guilty of assault, with text from BBC News.
  11. "Finally, a judge who gets it", with text and images from the Daily Mail
  12. Sneak(er) Thieves with text from the Daily Mail
  13. Police 'could have prevented' Braintree Murders with text from BBC News
  14. PC (ex-Mr. Gay UK) Denies Rape Of Man, with text from BBC News.
  15. Thieves quit crime to claim benefits, with text from the Sun.
  16. GMP officers seize Mitsubishi Lancer, then write it off with text and images from BBC News.
  17. Gatwick Custody Officer paid compensation, with text from BBC News.
  18. Huddersfield woman ‘buried alive’ in woods by partner, with text from the Huddersfield Daily Examiner
  19. Metropolitan police officer sacked over texts to girl with text from BBC News.

But, isn't this fair use?

In short: no.

In long: In order to fall under fair use under UK copyright law, as far as I understand it, it has to be "Research and private study" (not applicable here), "Instruction or examination" (again, not applicable), "Criticism or review" (This would be the most likely contender in this case, but most of the posts are merely copying the original source, with no in-depth criticism, review, or analysis of the original piece), or "News reporting" (not applicable, as the news is already reported by the original source - copying it wholesale is not 'reporting'), or "Incidental inclusion" (not applicable).


In other words, each of the above posts break UK copyright law. Doubly embarrassing, then, that the lawbreakers in question are all police officers.

It would appear that the discussion of copyright has already happened on the Police Specials forum back in January of 2010, where one poster writes: "Given the nature of the site, I think we need to be quite careful about breaking the law" and "A better solution would be if we wrote a synopsis (or copied the first 10-20 words or so) and then linked to the original source - that way, there's no risk of any issues.".

In the long discussion that follows, it doesn't appear that the police themselves (or, at least, the small sub-section of police that post to this particular forum) understand how copyright works, or how it is meant to protect publishers, authors, and artists.

I suppose that if even a forum full of police officers doesn't grasp the basics of copyright, it's hardly a surprise that I'm finding copyright infringements on my own articles left, right, and center. Not surprising. Just a little depressing.

The pictures associated with this post are for illustration only, and were purchased from iStockphoto.

Further Reading

This is part of a 4-story series:

  1. What is copyright, and how do infringements harm you?
  2. Protecting your copyright in a Digital World
  3. Just because it's in my RSS feed, doesn't mean you get to steal it
  4. Ignorance is no excuse

In addition, you might enjoy Police Fail: Copyright, what is that? and Even Schools Don't Care About Copyright...