Judge throws out £30,000 copyright claim against this website

A deputy district judge has summarily dismissed a claim against this website and Exaro News claiming over £80,000 for publishing two pictures to illustrate the activities of a former Met Police photographer who ran an agency that publicly offered to pay thousands of pounds to public officials for stories on celebrities.
The court findings and background to the story is published on the Exaro website today
The case was brought by Newspics Ltd, the company owned by Matt Sprake, an ex police photographer who works for a number of national newspapers.
For bloggers the ruling by district court judge Stuart Quin at Milton Keynes County Court is interesting since he accepted the case brought by Exaro’s lawyers.Vertex Law,who argued that publication of the pictures amounted to what is called “fair dealing.”
This allows copyright to be waived whoever owns it if the pictures are used to illustrate a story and can be seen to be relevant to the story and in the public interest. This could be significant for bloggers who want to illustrate public figures in a story which is a matter of public interest whoever owns the copyright.
Mr Sprake who denies paying anybody was also summoned by Lord Leveson to give evidence to his inquiry into the press use of undercover work and invasion of privacy.
Mr Sprake claimed Exaro and this website had obtained the pictures from private sources. Exaro argued that this was not the case as the pictures were in the public domain.
The original story is on the Exaro website and on this blog. The pictures which showed Mr Sprake dressed in full photographer’s gear after the bombing in Canary Wharf in 1996 and sitting in the PM’s chair in the Cabinet Room at Number Ten Downing Street were used to illustrate his claims on his website. This said NewsPics advertised a menu of services under the label “surveillance photography”, claiming: “You can utilise the very same skills that are used by the security services and the police.”

UPDATE:October 25 Milton Keynes County Court have now awarded default costs against Newspics, the company owned by Matt Sprake and his wife, for £23,599.39 so Exaro News and myself can recover legal costs. He has 14 days to pay.

Press Complaints Commission: defending legitimate journalism

Lord Hunt: Current chairman of the Press Complaints Commission: pic courtesy: The Guardian

It may be unfashionable to say this right now,but this is a blog to say how well and fair the Press Complaints Commission handled a complaint against me this summer.

I was not even a party to the complaint which was between Matt Sprake, a former police photographer, and the Independent Newspaper but the content of his entire complaint was against me over a story that appeared under my name and Oliver Wright which I had researched and published on Exaro  News . (see http://www.exaronews.net for full story and pcc’s findings).

Basically  through Exaro News we revealed  how Sprake’s picture agency, NewsPics, offered to pay thousands of pounds to public officials – from nurses to police workers – for inside information on celebrities. Sprake denied he had ever paid anyone.

The offer was made explicitly on the agency’s website.

Matt Sprake: PIc courtesy of Hacked Off website

The disclosure led to Sprake being summoned by Lord Leveson to appear before his inquiry and provide information on the huge scale of his  work for Trinity Mirror which Lloyd Embley, then editor of the People, had omitted to tell them.

Sprate lodged a complaint to the PCC claiming that  breached the editors’ code of conduct. He claimed that the article contained inaccuracies and intruded into his private life, and that I had used subterfuge to gain information about his past career in the police.

The PCC dismissed each element of Sprake’s complaint particularly suggestions that his family had been put at risk by the disclosure that he had photographed terrrorist sites. The findings said:

“He considered that the information relating to his former employment by Scotland Yard in anti-terrorism activities was sensitive and confidential.”

But the PCC concludes: “The complainant had volunteered information about his former work with the police, including that he had been ‘looking at terrorism work’, to the journalist, whom he had taken to be a potential client, and was a stranger to him; and that the information amounted to a statement of his former occupation.

“In addition, in light of the statement published on the website, which suggested police officers contacted the company with information, and the on-going public scrutiny and debate over the links between the police and the Press, there was a public interest in revealing the complainant’s former work with the police.”

Sprake also complained that I had tricked him in a telephone conversation into revealing his past career in the police. The PCC said that Sprake was confused about the purpose of the reporter’s telephone call to him, but concludes: “The commission could not therefore agree that the reporter had engaged in misrepresentation or subterfuge.”

Sprake was asked for comment on the findings and he said: “None at all.”

Now the good  and fair thing  about this judgement is that the PCC did not fall for such sweeping complaints from someone who had already admitted to Leveson about how he pursued the McCanns seeking intrusive photos when they had not wanted them on a  Canadian holiday. But I also had to justify  everything I had written – and had kept a recording of the call. The whole point of chasing him up was to allow him to give me his side and to be absolutely certain from his own words that he was an ex  police photographer.

The irony about all this is that PCC is certain to be abolished by Leveson in its present form because of the ” phone hacking ” scandal. Yet they have handled this well. Whatever  replaces the PCC must both safeguard the public from the worst excesses of bad  and inaccurate journalism  but equally protect  genuine investigative  journalism from unfounded claims from unscrupulous complainants. Over to you, my Lord.

Leveson Inquiry: Do you want to comment on Newspics, Mr Embley ?

Yet another development today in the fast moving Leveson inquiry into press standards. Lord Leveson – following the two blogs by Roy Greenslade in The Guardian and my exposure of Newspics website at http://www.exaronews.com – has invited the former editor of The People, Lloyd Embley, now editor in chief of  the Daily and Sunday Mirror, to comment on Matt Sprake’s evidence.

In a statement to the inquiry he said:” The Inquiry only learnt of the existence of Matthew Sprake very recently, but I am conscious that his evidence last week concerned, in large part, the work which he had been employed to carry out for The People.  Further, it raised issues relating to the responsibilities for the ethical decisions in connection with its commissioning.

Although I recognise that it is now too late to serve a notice under Section 21 of the Act on the editor, Mr Lloyd Embley (who gave evidence during the course of Module 1), should he wish to provide his account of that relationship, dealing with what Mr Sprake has said, I will, of course, consider it..”

It came on the same day the inquiry was told separately by the Scotland Yard chief, Sue Akers, that her bribery investigations were now covering allegations involving the Trinity Mirror group, owner of The People, over payments to prison officers involving Trinity Mirror as well as News International.There is no suggestion whatsoever that Matt Sprake is involved in this investigation.

Trinity Mirror were given the opportunity to comment on the Exaro News revelations about the inducements offered to public officials on Matt Sprake’s Newspics website but declined to take it up. Perhaps they will take more kindly to Lord Leveson’s request.

Full link to Leveson is :http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Transcript-of-Morning-Hearing-23-July-20121.txt