Can Malaysian websites sue for plagiarism? We find out after our article was "stolen"8 months ago Matdura S.
If you’ve been following our Facebook Page, you might have come across a post we put up that called out several media sites for allegedly stealing our article on kenduri tents.
Here’s what happened: The original post in English sparked a lot of interest and opinions, which translated to OMG IT WENT VIRAL!!!!1 But as we were preparing the BM version of the article, we came across (mostly BM) posts on social media covering the same issue with the same facts and the same feature image idea. So that’s when we put up the post about how our con-tent was taken.
Other than the many messages of support (Awwwww~), one interesting question that many of you asked was if we could sue these other sites for plagiarism:
So since I (Matdura – writer of tent articles) also had the same knee-jerk reaction when I saw the other posts, I decided to look into the subject myself. Here’s the answer that I have to share with you:
No, we can’t sue anyone for “stealing” the tent article :(
Well, more accurately, we can file a lawsuit but there’s a pretty high chance we’ll be losing the case.
This is because none of the sites involved did a complete copy-paste of the article (plagiarism). Rather, they wrote on the laws applied and performed a Google image search for kenduri tents (not exactly plagiarism). Let’s take a look at what our copyright laws actually say.
In Malaysia, the law that governs this area is the Malaysian Copyright Act 1987 and protection is given to any piece of work that is regarded to be original, so long as it is expressed in written/tangible form. Plagiarism isn’t legally defined in the Malaysian law, however it is widely understood that producing a document without the original creator’s permission can amount to a copyright infringement. However, it’s not plagiarism if you were ‘inspired’ by a certain work, but made sufficient efforts to make it original in its own right; as explained in Section 7(3) of the Act:
So to bring it back to our Tent drama, because none of these sites completely copy-pasted our article, the easiest claim of plagiarism can be thrown out the courtroom window.
The next possible argument is that they published similar articles with similar angles within hours of ours – surely something fishy happened here, right? Well…. we actually can’t sue people for copying of facts (Yes, this is a fact). Facts aren’t entitled to copyright laws, so statements like “Water freezes at zero Celsius” or “Trees produce oxygen” or “It would be ironic if someone steals this article” are factual statements that cannot be copyrighted.
So although it’s highly coincidental that 5 sites were suddenly inspired to write about kenduri tent laws out of the blue, they referenced rules (aka, facts) that are found in Malaysian law.
So how can sites protect their content?
Well, if we’re looking purely at written content posted on websites, it’s not going to be easy. While there are steps to file copyright protection for your work, it means that you’ll need to do it for every article that you publish – an impossible task if you publish once (or more) a day.
However, there are other creative ways that other sites have taken to hit back at content stealers. One example is myth debunking website Snopes.com, who put up a fake article about the origin of the song Sing a Song of Sixpence. This “information” later “inspired” other sites to write it as fact without citing Snopes as the source; and even found its way into a card game – effectively proving that these companies took content without attribution and didn’t bother verifying their information.
Rest assured though, Asklegal will never (and can’t) do such a thing as we spend a lot of time making sure that our content is as accurate as possible.
Instead, the best option available for most websites is really to name and shame, either as a reminder to give credit where its due; or for the satisfaction of making sarcastic jabs at them.
As an additional fact, while the Malaysian Copyright Act does provide some exception for situations where content can be reproduced for purposes of reacher review or reporting, it states that this must be accompanied by acknowledgement of the original source.
Section 13(2) of the Malaysian Copyright Act 1987 (emphasis by Asklegal):
TLDR; content creators may be less mad if you at least gave them credit.
Why is Asklegal making a mountain out of a molehill?
If you were to ask anyone in digital publishing how much of a problem content theft is, it’s likely they’re going to tell you that it’s a common problem (here’s an example from Cilisos). If they say otherwise, check their laptop keyboards for signs of extreme wear and tear on the Ctrl, C and V keys.
The issue here isn’t a matter of who came first or who broke the news first, but rather the sense of dejection to see 3 days of work being taken by someone else in 3 minutes. Worse, we were working on a BM version to the article (which also requires the same kind of effort to make sure the information is credible) which, by the time we published it, was dead in the water (or rain, in this case).
Of course, there’s no guarantee that our BM version would have done well even without the other inspired articles from other BM sites, but when you look at how well they did….. it would likely have been higher than the 24 shares we got on ours. It was in-tent-se.
So end of the day, perhaps one of our readers put it best