Ruling

02328-18 McKay v The Chronicle (Newcastle)

    • Date complaint received

      30th August 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

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 of £285,000.”

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 journalists.

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 copying.

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 this matter.

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 (iii).

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.

Conclusions

19. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

20. N/A

Date complaint received: 16/03/2018
Date decision issued: 09/08/2018