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04 August 2022

Theft Of Journalism Online More Than Doubled In UK In 2021

The number of cloned and ripped-off news articles successfully taken down from “pretty sophisticated fake sites” on behalf of UK publishers more than doubled in 2021 compared to the year before.

NLA Media Access got more than 50,000 articles removed from 1,000 fake or illegitimate news sites in 2021, up from about 20,000 articles from more than 700 sources the year before, Matt Aspinall, NLA head of publisher services, told Press Gazette.

“That could be anyone from a blogger that’s just a bit naive and doesn’t really understand that you can’t just rip news content,” Mr Aspinall said.

“It could be someone that knows exactly what they’re doing. And it could be a URL or something. It could be something like London News.today… trying to create a fake news site. All the way to these kinds of cloned businesses.”

Some of the impacts can include dissatisfied journalists who are angry their work has been ripped off, a hit to public reputation, SEO efforts being undermined, and syndication deals being put at risk as partners question why they have to pay if a blind eye is turned to copy being ripped for free.

Publishers with paywalls are also at risk even though they tend to believe they are safer, according to Mr Aspinall.

He added: “We had a case a few years ago with one of the national newspaper websites that was cloned and the actual contents of the interview was changed as well. So it wasn’t immediately obvious until you looked into it and did a little bit of comparison.”

He said there have also been increasing cases of national news website homepages being cloned that send readers who click through to a story to a bitcoin or crypto site.

Mr Aspinall added: “For you and I that work in journalism, we’d spot this and we wouldn’t really come here for our news. But for someone that sees an article on social media or something, and it’s a link to this, who doesn’t work in the industry and just thinks it’s a standard news story – I mean, maybe why wouldn’t you think this might be a legitimate site?”

NLA’s Text Tracker, which has been running since 2015 but relaunched with a new in-house system in 2020, currently represents almost 40 news brands including all the UK’s national newspaper websites and a number of regional groups. It is currently in talks with international news brands in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada as scam sites are a “global issue”, Aspinall said.

“I can’t see it’s a problem that’s going to go away anytime soon,” he added.