Pop Goes The News – A website popular with Canadian music industry insiders is under fire for repeated plagiarism and other questionable journalistic practices.
FYI Music News has published content lifted directly from outlets like CBC News, CNN and The Los Angeles Times as well as from websites owned by NBCUniversal, Bell Media and Torstar.
It also frequently publishes content copied from Wikipedia and from news releases, without direct attribution, and uses photos from agencies like Getty Images without authorization.
The volume of content FYI passes off as its own, or uses without permission, is startling given that it targets an audience that is particularly sensitive to issues around respecting copyright, giving proper credit and paying for content.
“Perfection is the goal,” said FYI founder and editor David Farrell, in a June 16th email response to written questions. “Occasionally FYI, like every other media organization large and small, falls short.”
FYI contributors include experienced writers like Nick Krewen, Karen Bliss and Kerry Doole but there is no evidence that any of them are responsible for the site’s plagiarism.
Farrell’s name or “FYI Staff” are most often atop those articles that contain readily-detected plagiarism. Asked if he writes under the “FYI Staff” byline, Farrell replied: “Yes, sometimes (but by no means always) … these pieces are often prepared by our regular contributors.”
Reportedly almost 70, Farrell’s decades-long career includes editorial positions at trade publications Record Week, Cashbox and Billboard and nearly two decades of running The Record.
In November 2017, when Farrell was announced as the 2018 inductee to the Canadian Music & Broadcast Industry Hall of Fame, a press release praised FYI for providing “accurate information on a day-to-day basis.”
But, an investigation by Pop Goes The News has revealed that some of that “accurate information” is not the work of FYI.
Complaints about plagiarism at FYI have circulated for several years in Canadian media circles and have been shared on social media and in the site’s comments section.
One example that was publicly exposed is a June 7, 2018 article with the “FYI Staff” byline that initially contained passages copied from a March 28, 2018 article by John Law in the St. Catharines Standard.
Grant LaFleche, an investigative reporter at the St. Catharines Standard, part of Torstar’s Metroland Media Group, wrote in the comments section: “Hey, FYI, here is an fyi, don’t plagiarize the work of actual journalists. Or did you think that we wouldn’t notice that you’ve copied, word for word, parts of a story by my colleague John Law from the Niagara Falls Review daily newspaper.
“Mr. Law is a respected, award winning journalist, and you’ve decided the thing to do here is just rip copy straight from his work and presented as your own under the byline ‘FYI staff.’ Utterly unprofessional!”
LaFleche also called out FYI on Twitter. “Just a quick #plagiarism alert. @fyimusicnews recent piece on 1,000 Musicians fundraiser is plagiarized from @JohnLawMedia’s March story on the subject. They slightly altered their piece when we complained, but it still contains word-for-word rips of John’s original work.”
Neither Law nor LaFleche responded to requests for comments.
More recently, Farrell’s name appeared as the byline on a May 16, 2019 post about the death of former record company executive Deane Cameron that included at least six paragraphs he copied-and-pasted from Bell Media’s iHeartRadio.ca, which broke the story.
When a reader commented on the plagiarism, Farrell denied it but admitted to “incorporating [the writer’s] trajectory.” He then revised the article (which was written by the owner of this website) to remove most of the plagiarized content and he added a list of sources that did not include iHeartRadio.ca.
This case, too, was exposed on Twitter.
Via email, Farrell apologized and said: “I acknowledge I failed to attribute the paragraph[s] from iHeart.”
According to the Online News Association (ONA), plagiarism “is traditionally defined as taking someone else’s work and presenting it as your own. In journalism, it is considered one of the primary sins of the profession.”
The ONA has addressed questions about “cut-and-paste research” in the digital era: “Is all plagiarism the same? Can plagiarism sometimes be a minor infraction? Is ‘patch writing’ resulting from cutting and pasting as serious as lifting hundreds of words?” It noted that most large news organizations “believe any plagiarism is too much … they believe that any unattributed copying of others’ phrasing is a fundamental violation of journalistic ethics.”
The Code of Ethics by the U.S.-based Society of Professional Journalists, founded in 1909, puts it more succinctly: “Never plagiarize. Always attribute.”
Farrell told Pop Goes The News that “in almost all cases” he provides links to the stories he cites and attributes the source and author – but he admitted “there are deviations.”
Farrell included an odd footnote: “Augmented with details from Broadcast Dialogue.”
Farrell’s byline is on a Nov. 29, 2017 article about Drake that was, in fact, entirely written by Jessica Wong and published by CBC News two days earlier. (FYI linked to Wong’s original at the bottom of its post.)
The FYI post includes a hyperlink to the Times story but readers are not told that three-quarters of the FYI article is not, in fact, the work of “FYI Staff.”
FYI used “External Source” as a byline without identifying, or linking to, the sources.
Gordon did not respond to a request for comment about the theft of her work.
Interestingly, FYI has, on a number of occasions, plagiarized articles about plagiarism and copyright.
An Aug. 25, 2016 post at FYI detailed a lawsuit filed against pop star Ariana Grande.
It copied three whole paragraphs from an Aug. 24, 2016 article by E! News, which is owned by NBCUniversal. The FYI post has only “External Source” as a byline.
Farrell’s name appears atop a May 5, 2019 article about changes to the Canadian copyright act that includes at least two sentences taken from a March 29, 2018 article by iPolitics, which is owned by Torstar.
Sometimes, FYI makes it easy to find the source of its plagiarism. For example, an Aug. 13, 2018 post about Drake’s tour with Migos copied at least one entire paragraph from an article at Pitchfork – but, in a footnote, FYI linked to Pitchfork for “more on the opening night show…”
A June 14, 2019 post about the sale of Leonard Cohen’s letters – bylined “External Source” – has word-for-word content from the Reuters news agency. Although it included “Reuters Thomson” (sic) in a footnote, FYI did not attribute the specific passage as being the work of Reuters.
A copyright notice on the Reuters Canada website states that “republication or redistribution of Thomson Reuters content … is expressly prohibited.”
Obviously, naming a source does not allow one to copy its reporting word-for-word – unless it is clearly identified as someone else’s work.
Farrell is evidently comfortable republishing content without permission or payment because, he said, FYI is “an aggregator of topical news and opinion” and “a pathway for readers to find stories that are available on the Internet.”
In 2017, Canadaland reported on a Superior Court judge in Quebec who ruled that news aggregator La Dose may have violated the copyright of three newspapers by posting headlines and excerpts from their stories. He issued a temporary injunction against La Dose, paving the way for what Canadaland described as a “case that could set a legal precedent for how much of an article can be aggregated.” Instead, La Dose shut down.
“THAT’S NOT JOURNALISM”
FYI also routinely publishes content and quotes taken from press releases without attribution.
Farrell makes no apologies. “Of course we reprint them — edited if necessary (and they usually need that) and if they do in fact contain news that would interest our readers,” he said, via email. “That’s why we were sent the releases in the first place.”
The ONA opined: “While sources of the news releases may, in fact, be pleased to see their words replicated, journalism means more than parrotting someone else’s words. Making clear what information comes directly from a release and what is original reporting avoids that pitfall.”
Veteran journalist Peter Hadzipetros, who has trained journalists in Canadian newsrooms on best practices, told Pop Goes The News that no one should copy-and-paste anything from a news release.
“That’s not journalism. You’re telling a story that someone else wants to be told,” he said.
“The quotes they supply push that angle. If you think that news release makes an interesting story – and in a lot of cases it might – then pick up the phone and do a quick interview. Get your own quotes, especially if you’re putting your name on the story.
“It’s not your work if you’re pasting in a quote they are supplying.”
Indeed, most journalists who pull quotes from news releases make it clear that the comment came “in a release” so readers know the writer did not personally speak to the person.
Farrell dismissed this as “simply naive.” He added: “We often use the phrase ‘external source’ when we repeat, reprint or rewrite material from publicists.”
FYI also routinely uses content from Wikipedia that it presents as its own work.
Farrell insisted that “quoting from Wikipedia is accepted journalistic practice — providing the information is accurate.” He did not say how, or if, FYI verifies its accuracy. “Nine times out of 10 we name Wikipedia as the source,” he said.
But, FYI doesn’t quote from Wikipedia – it copies-and-pastes from it.
For example, on April 8, 2019, an 11-paragraph article about Come From Away winning an award, credited to “FYI Staff,” contained four paragraphs taken directly from the Wikipedia entry about the musical. Readers are not told that at least 36 per cent of the “FYI Staff” article was not, in fact, written by “FYI Staff.”
Wikipedia’s Creative Commons license does allow its user-generated content to be copied as long as attribution is included (in this case, though, FYI merely included Wikipedia as one of three “sources”) but Hadzipetros cautions journalists about doing so.
“I would treat it like any other written source that I might use,” he said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable lifting a paragraph with attribution. Just about anybody can update a Wikipedia entry.
“If you like citizen journalists, you’ll love citizen plumbers.”
While plagiarism is more about ethics than law, publishing photographs without permission is seen as copyright infringement – and FYI has been accused of using photographs for which it does not have rights.
Photo agencies offers subscription packages that allow websites to download and use their images – typically on the condition that a photo credit is included. Photographers receive royalties every time their photos are published.
On a number of occasions, FYI has posted Getty Images content downloaded from other websites. These include photos of Drake published by FYI on Nov. 29, 2017 and Dec. 5, 2018; a photo of Alessia Cara on Jan. 29, 2018; and one of Justin Timberlake posted on Feb. 12, 2018.
On June 2, 2017, FYI published two photos of singer Ariana Grande that it snatched from the website of UK newspaper The Mirror. The rights to those images, though, belong to Splash News.
FYI used a ZUMA Press photo of Céline Dion in a Jan. 10, 2018 post.
“It is tricky,” Farrell admitted, when asked about sourcing photos. “Where I can, the photographer is contacted. Credit is always given for others where possible but increasingly I will source from an artist or relevant person or persons’ Instagram or Facebook account or website.”
A FREE RIDE?
So, why has Farrell and his website been able to get away with years of repurposing the work of others? Quite simply, most journalists working for major media companies do not own the work they produce and their employers are reluctant to take on the cost of legal action.
Representatives for several media companies declined to comment on the record but pointed to copyright notices published on their websites.
“Publication, retransmission, broadcast, posting to newsgroups, mail lists or electronic bulletin boards, circulation, selling, reproduction or redistribution in any medium are prohibited,” reads the notice from Postmedia.
Canada’s Copyright Act added a process in 2015 to allow copyright holders to notify website owners and their Internet Service Providers of alleged infringements – but the Notice and Notice Regime lacks the power of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
“I TRY MY BEST”
FYI contributors contacted by Pop Goes The News declined to go on the record but were quick to defend Farrell. “Perhaps he copied an article in order to get the info,” said one, in an email, “but because he writes a lot in the middle of the night forgot it wasn’t a press release.” Another insisted that it is “inaccurate” to say FYI plagiarizes.
The website’s primary financial backer, respected industry figure and philanthropist Gary Slaight, could not be reached for comment.
In his June 16th email, Farrell seemed to suggest his journalistic failings at FYI are the result of being overwhelmed.
“I am basically a one-man show with a freelance supporting cast and get more than 300 emails a day with 3 deadlines a week that total more than 30,000 words monthly,” he wrote. “I try my best, have always fought for my freelancers and if I fuck up occasionally … I apologise.
“Maybe it is time to stop trying. I don’t own anything to speak of but I have truly tried my best.”