Cyber rights for journalists

IN Resources | 14/09/2012
1) Who is an online journalist?
Journalists are people who gather information that is relevant to the public and communicate this over various media. An online journalist would collect, write or edit news-reports, articles, features, interviews, opinion pieces, photographs or even podcasts and videos on news and events on an online platform.
 
2) Which laws would apply to online journalists?
If you are located and work from India, all the laws applicable to citizens of India will also apply to you. These include the Constitution of India, Press Laws and Acts, provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedures Code, Broadcasting regulations etc. The Press Council of India[1] has a comprehensive list of acts applicable for journalists.
 
Besides, the amended Information Technology Act, 2000, governs all electronic communication. So, if a print, television, radio or mobile media journalist transmitted any information electronically, the provisions of the IT Act would also be applicable.
 
3) What is the legal status of an article in a newspaper that is also used online by the same media house?
Print media content is governed by a number of laws, including the Constitution of India’s provisions on freedom of expression and privacy, other specific laws on registration of publications, provisions in the Indian Penal Code, etc. An online article will attract different provision of the Information Technology Act, along with all the other laws.
 
4) If I am a print journalist and my report appears online in my media company’s website, will the Information Technology Act apply to me?
Yes, it will.
 
5) What is the legal status of online news media in India? Is there a registration process for news websites in India?
Unlike print publications, online news sites or portals do not have to be registered in India. All you need is a domain name registration.
 
6) Does a news-website come under the existing press laws of the land?
Only some press laws will apply to a news website in India. Online media does not come under the purview of the Press Council of India, the Working Journalists Act, The Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, The Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956 and the Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954.
 
However, since the amended Information Technology Act, 2000, governs all electronic communication, a news website will come under its purview.
 
7) Who is legally responsible for a report on a news-website – the reporter or the web editor?
Reporters and web editors are legally responsible for content on a site. Under the amended IT Act, 2000, all responsibility for ensuring that no ‘objectionable’ content is uploaded online and for taking down content will vest with the intermediary.
 
8)What happens if a Facebook post by a journalist or blogger invites an ‘abuse’ report?
Facebook relies on its user community to determine if the content is offensive or not. Every wall post, photo, note etc. has a report abuse link embedded in it. Unlike Twitter, Facebook maintains no record of censorship.
 
9) If you re-tweet a message on Twitter or use Storify as part of a story you file and it is subsequently deemed objectionable, who is responsible?
The intermediary hosting your site, your editor, reporter will be held responsible.
 
10) Is it ethical for journalists to use content that is on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter for their stories?
Content on social media networks is usually public, unless users activate privacy settings to restrict viewers. So journalists can use content from social media networks but it is a good idea to be ethical in using material that can compromise privacy.
 
11) Is a blogger a journalist?
If a blogger posts blogs that are journalistic in nature, i.e., the blogger
uses the blogging platforms for posting reports, views, opinions, comments on events, then the blogger can be called a journalist.
 
12) Do bloggers and journalists share the same protection under the law?
Bloggers and journalists share the same protection under the law because article 19 (1) (a) that defines freedom of expression applies to all citizens. The media in India does not enjoy special privileges under the law unlike US, where freedom of press was ratified by the First Amendment.
 
 13) Can a journalist publish their stories on their blogs?
A journalist can publish their stories on their personal blogs. A lot depends on the nature of contract with the concerned media organisation s/he works for. A journalist can publish their stories giving an attribution to the employer that published the story originally. If the contract is such that the journalist retains her/his copyright of the story, then the journalist ought to mention it clearly.
 
14) What is the difference between an online journalistic report and a blog-post? Do they have a different legal status?
An online journalistic report seeks to collect and provide information that has a public interest. A blog post can be about a wide range of subjects written in various styles- from one’s opinions, reports and factual information to personal accounts of one’s travels, cookery, pets, health, philosophy etc. Legally, both online journalistic reports as well as blog-posts have the same status under the IT Act.
 
15) Are opinion pieces dealt with differently under the law?
No.
 
16) If you have written a report or a blog post that has received comments that are considered ‘offensive’, who is responsible for this?
The blog owner is responsible for the comments on his/her blog. The responsibility also extends to the websites offering free blogging services or the blog hosts.
 
The intermediary is solely responsible for taking down content.
 
If a report elicits comments that are deemed offensive, then the web editor, the reporter, the publisher of the website (if any) will be held primarily responsible and a suit can be filed against them even after takedown of the content.
 
17) In which court of law or forum can I defend myself if a complaint is lodged against content on my site or blog?
Currently, under the IT Act, there is no provision or forum for you to challenge a complaint or a take down notice. You will have to take down the content within 36 hour of receipt of the complaint and then challenge it in a court of law.
 
18) If you re-tweet a message on Twitter or use Storify as part of a story you file and it is subsequently deemed objectionable, who is responsible?
The intermediary hosting your site, your editor, reporter will be held responsible.
 
19) Is it ethical for journalists to use content that is on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter for their stories?
Content on social media networks is usually public, unless users activate privacy settings to restrict viewers. So journalists can use content from social media networks but it is a good idea to be ethical in using material that can compromise privacy.
 
20) Does the copyright for any material - text, visuals or audio - differ for different media?
Yes. In some cases (‘sound recordings’ and ‘cinematograph films’) the producer is considered the author, and in other cases the writer / artist /sculptor / photographer, etc., is considered the author.
 
21) In whom does the copyright vest with if an independent (i.e. freelance) journalist or photographer is commissioned work for an online organization?
For photographers[2], the person commissioning the work would own it. For journalists, it depends on whether it is a contract for service (for e.g., a consultancy) or a contract of service (formal employment contracts), and whether the contract has a copyright-related clause. 
 
Assuming that it doesn't have a copyright-related clause:
 
If it is a contract for service, then the journalist owns copyright by default. If the journalist is employed, the employer owns copyright by default.
 
Do remember that a specific clause in the contract can override all of these defaults.
 
22) With whom does the copyright vest with if the work of an independent (freelance) journalist or photographer is used by an online organisation?
The copyright status of the work will remain unchanged irrespective of the medium in which it is used.
 
23) If a freelance journalist ‘pitches’ a story to a media organisation and the story gets approved and published - both online (on the organization's website) and offline (in its print publication), whom does the copyright of the story vest with?
If it is the entire article, then the freelance journalist owns it ( depending on the nature of the contracts as specified in #2 ). If it is just the story idea and an in-house journalist actually ends up writing the story, then the media organization owns the copyright.
 
24) Whom does the copyright of a report, photograph, video, graphic uploaded on a blog vest with?
If the content is part of a blog created by an individual blog creator, it will vest with the creator. It is a very good idea to state the terms of ownership and sharing of the content prominently on the site.
 
If the content is part of a website, it will vest with the owner of the website.
 
Several bloggers or website owners do try to share content for non-commercial use and obtain limited licences for this. More information can be obtained from CreativeCommons and Copyleft.
 
25) Is it necessary to register online work to claim copyright?
Copyright comes into existence as soon as a work is created and no formality is required to be completed for acquiring copyright. However, it is advisable to state the terms of copyright at the bottom of your website.
 
26) Is there any copyright over news?
No. There is no copyright over news. However, there is copyright over the way in which a news item is reported.


[2] For photographers, refer Section 17(b) and for journalists, refer Section 17(a) of amended Copyright Act, 1957

 

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