Do you own your life
Feb / 07

Do You Own Your Life?

Sharon Givoni Consulting Intellectual Property

This might be an intriguing title for an article because at first glance, of course you own your life – otherwise, who else would? But this is more a question of do you own the story of your life? Taking that a step further, how would you feel if someone else came along, say, an author, an investigator or a journalist and just wrote about you or your family without permission?

This in fact happened to a jockey in the case of Donoghue v Allied Newspapers [1938] Ch 106. In this English case (Australian law is similar), a professional journalist S. T. Felstead wrote a series of articles published in the News of the World newspaper about the then-famous jockey Stephen Donoghue.

Donoghue was interviewed about his experiences in the world of horse racing.

The series of articles published were called “Steve Donoghue’s Racing Secrets, Enthralling Stories of the Sport of Kings”. All articles were approved by Mr. Donoghue prior to publishing.

My Racing Secrets. By Steve Donoghue

Mr. Felstead then went on to write his own new article: “My Racing Secrets. By Steve Donoghue” to be published in another newspaper.

It was a different article and therefore created a new copyright work. Mr. Donoghue did not consent to the publication of new works, yet when the piece was published in the newspaper, Mr. Donoghue took action to prevent any further publications of such articles.

Source: Image of Stephen Donoghue

What does the law say?

Copyright protects the expression of ideas and information NOT the idea itself or the underlying information. In this case the journalist was the author and was responsible for the literary creation; Donoghue was just the original source of the ideas and remember, there is no copyright in ideas.

As such, Mr. Donoghue could not take action to prevent any further publications of such articles.

How can you prevent publication of a story through copyright law?

In 2013 there was a court case relating to the book Sins of the Father was realised by Allen and Unwin. In that book, a senior investigative journalist revealed the explosive results of his three year probe into Australia’s Schapelle Corby drug case.

The story talked of an Adelaide drug trafficker and Schapelle, a Gold Coast beauty school dropout who kept her mouth shut saying how she took the rap for her father’s drug syndicate. We are led through the days and weeks leading up to her arrest.

While the journalist, Eamonn Duff was allowed to use the facts of the matter anyway he wanted (so long as there was no defamation) the problem was that some of the photographs that appeared in the book were taken by the family and the book publisher did not have a licence to use them.

The judge took the view that the copyright of Schapelle Corby’s family had been breached and they got $50,000. The Federal Court found on Wednesday that Allen & Unwin had to withdraw the remaining books from market. Remember too that just because images on the internet are downloadable this often-won’t mean that you can use them.

Caption – This book had to be recalled and pulped due to copyright reasons

There are other considerations well that might apply such as defamation and use of confidential information. However, these are stories for another day.

If you are looking to have a manuscript or story reviewed by our law firm, please call us.

If you want control over your own story and even over who can read it, you can hire a life story or memoir writer. Recently we assisted Stories to Keep with is contracts which included subclauses on copyright. Stories to Keep is based in Melbourne and run by former Age journalist Deborah Gough. Her years as a reporter convinced of three things: that everyone has a story worth telling; most great stories never make the news pages; and that even if news editors don’t want to publish them friends and family will treasure them. How often have we all been to funerals and realised there was so much more to the person we knew? How satisfying it is to tell your story, to reflect on the good times and the challenging times and realise we have endured.

Stories to Keep is a bespoke publisher of newspaper-style stories bound in hardback books. Best of all, you can have as few as one copy of your story so you have complete control who knows your story, unlike poor Mr Donoghue.