Decision of the Complaints Committee 02328-18 McKay v The Chronicle (Newcastle)
Summary of complaint
1. Barry McKay complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Chronicle (Newcastle) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Rock ‘n’ reeling,” published on 14 March 2018.
2. The article
reported that a famous rock band had paid £100,000 to a local musician, in
order to settle a song lyric copyright claim. It stated that the named
songwriter had “brought a suit against the band” over claims some of the lyrics
in the song were similar to those in a song he had written. It stated that the
complainant had helped to bring the suit, which had now been settled out of
court. It went on to state that under the agreement, the band were “free to use
any part” of the original song within their record, and that the band had
agreed to pay the musician and complainant’s legal fees. It included a
statement from the band’s representative, which stated that it had “reluctantly
[settled] this action with McKay for £100,000.” It also included a statement
from the complainant, stating, “the original claim was for £200,000, we’ve
settled for half of that but [the band] had to pay huge legal fees…I’m pleased
we’ve got a settlement but I’m disappointed with the whole situation - I am
used to representing musicians but I’ve never had to bring a case against other
musicians before. All they had to do was credit these two guys in the first
place.” The article was splashed on the front page, stating the band “pay
Tyneside songwriter £100,000 to settle ‘stolen’ lyrics case and pay legal costs
3. The article was
also published online, with the headline, “[Named band] pays out £100,000 to
Whitley Bay musician over claims they ‘copied’ his lyrics.” The online article
was substantially the same as the article that appeared in print, but did not
originally contain the statement from the complainant.
4. The complainant
said that the article was misleading as it downplayed his involvement in the
case. He said that it was inaccurate to state that he had “helped bring” the
suit, as in fact, he was the claimant in the case. He said that the musician
who had written the song had assigned his legal rights to him, as the music
publisher, meaning the legal action was brought in the complainant’s name. In
light of this, he also said it was inaccurate for the article to state that the
songwriter had been awarded £100,000 and that the songwriter had agreed to
settle his claim. The complainant believed that the newspaper should have been
aware of this, as he had provided a press release and court documents to the
newspaper, prior to publication, and had discussed the matter with one of their
5. He also said
that the article was misleading, as it did not include the full statement he
had given the newspaper regarding the case. He said that not including this, in
an article where he refuted a number of points included in the statement form
the band’s representative, was misleading. He also said that when he contacted
the newspaper after the article was published, it had refused to reproduce his
statement in full, which he said was a failure to grant him a right to reply.
6. The complainant
also raised concern that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that the band
were now free to use “any part of the song” in their record. He said that, in
fact, it was only able to sue for the two verses it had been accused of
7. The complainant
said that misrepresenting his legal battle constituted harassment. He said that
he had regular contact with the newspaper regarding stories of interest, and
due to a historic disagreement between both parties, he believed it had
deliberately minimised his involvement in the case. He provided copies of
correspondence he had had with the newspaper over several years, and said that
the publication of this article, which he believed to be inaccurate, was part
of a course of conduct which he believed constituted harassment.
8. The newspaper
did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the article made
clear the complainant’s involvement in the claim. It said that the complainant
himself stated at several points, “we’ve settled” and “we’ve got a settlement,”
which it said supported the article’s claim that he had helped the songwriter
bring the claim. It provided copies of the settlement deed, which it had seen
prior to publication. The settlement deed named both the complainant and the
songwriter as parties, and stated that the band “shall pay to [the songwriter]
(through Mr McKay) the sum of £100,000.” It was accepted that the song was
written by the local songwriter, and the complainant was bringing the claim as
his music publisher, so the newspaper did not believe that the article was
misleading as to the complainant’s involvement.
9. It said that the
settlement deed also stated that the complainant and the original songwriter
assigned the other party “the right to incorporate, to the extent their
interest in the same, any part of [song title] and to exploit and use the same
entirely in his discretion.” The claim form submitted by the complainant
alleged that the original songwriter was responsible for “the creation of
substantially the whole of the lyrics,” of the band’s song. The newspaper said
that this supported the article’s statement that the rock band was free to use
any part of the original song in their record. It said that even if the
agreement related only to two verses as the complainant alleged, this was a
significant portion of the song. In these circumstances it did not accept that
it was a significant inaccuracy to state that the band was free to use any part
of the song.
10. The newspaper also said that the article had clearly
identified the statement given by the band’s representative as comment on the
case, as required under the Code. It said that the omission of the
complainant’s full comment did not make the article inaccurate. It did not
accept that in this context, a right to reply was required.
11. Regardless of this, when the complainant had contacted the
newspaper directly regarding the alleged inaccuracies in the article,
corrections were published in the designated corrections and clarifications
column on page four, and as a standalone correction on the newspaper’s website.
The correction stated,
“In a report on March 14 about a payout from [the band] we said [named musician] had brought a lawsuit against the band. We are happy to clarify that the suit was brought by Barry McKay, not by [the musician]. We stated that “[the band] are free to use any part of [the musician] and [fellow musician’s] song ‘[song title]”. This was incorrect and should have read: “[The named band] are free to use those parts of ‘[song title]’ they had already used.” We apologise to Mr McKay for the errors.”
Relevant Code provisions
12. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
Clause 3 (Harassment) *
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
Findings of the Committee
13. The article was a local interest story in a local
newspaper, regarding a high profile copyright dispute. The article focused on
the fact that a local songwriter had recently been recognised as the writer of
some the lyrics to a famous rock song. The Committee acknowledged that the
complainant was, in fact, the claimant in this case, as certain legal rights
had been assigned to him by the original songwriter. However, he was bringing
the case as a music publisher, who had subsequently been assigned these rights,
and it was not in dispute that the complainant had not played a role in writing
the original lyrics. The statement provided by the complainant to the newspaper
prior to publication, also referred to the pair, collectively, having reached a
settlement on this issue, recognising the central role of the songwriter in
14. The Committee recognised that, in a legal sense, the
claim had been brought solely by the complainant, however the article had made
clear that the complainant was involved in bringing this claim, had received a
payment for his legal costs. It also included a statement from the complainant
on the case. Reporting that the complainant had “helped” bring the claim did
not represent a significant inaccuracy in the context of this article, which
reported on the fact a local musician had been recognised as the original
songwriter of these lyrics. . There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s actions in clarifying the
complainant’s position on this point.
15. The settlement
deed stated that the songwriter was to receive £100,000 for the grant of
rights, which was to be made through the complainant. In these circumstances,
the newspaper had taken care over the accuracy of the claim that the songwriter
had settled his claim and received a £100,000 payment. Reporting this did not
represent a significant inaccuracy, in breach of Clause 1 (ii).
16. Both the print and online articles included a statement
from the band’s representative, which the newspaper was entitled to report. The
articles took care to clearly present this statement as the band’s comment on
the case, and the print article also included a statement from the complainant.
The omission of the complainant’s full statement did not make the articles
inaccurate, as they accurately reported the agreed settlement of the case and
that the band had agreed to pay a substantial sum of money in response to the
copyright claim. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii) on this point. While the
complainant disagreed with the representative’s statement, including it in the
article did not represent a significant inaccuracy, for which the newspaper was
entitled to give the complainant a right to reply under the terms of Clause 1
17. The settlement deed confirmed that the band was free to
use “any part” of the two songs the band had allegedly copied from the original
songwriter. In these circumstances, the newspaper had taken care over the
accuracy of this information, and reporting it did not represent a significant
inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Regardless, the
Committee welcomed the newspaper’s clarification on this point.
18. The complainant
considered that the newspaper had deliberately misrepresented his involvement,
as part of a continued campaign of harassment. Clause 3 relates to the conduct
and behaviour of journalists during the newsgathering process. It specifically
refers to the conduct expected of journalists when making contact with members
of the public, and is designed to protect individuals from unwanted or repeated
approaches by the press. The complainant’s concern that the newspaper had
deliberately downplayed his involvement in this case, did not engage the terms
of Clause 3.
19. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 16/03/2018
Date decision issued: 09/08/2018