1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Friday, 27 November 2009

Copyright in Un-facts

It is beyond question that there is no copyright in a fact - but a newspaper this week left me pondering whether there might be any rights in a fact which turns out to be wrong.

The London Evening Standard's "Londoner's Diary" on Wednesday carried a story that the authorised biographer of Gracie Fields, perhaps the most popular British entertainer of the inter-war years, was unhappy that the BBC had, without acknowledgement, used his work as a source for a television dramatisation of part of her life featuring the actress Jane Horrocks (pictured as Gracie) - the programme, Gracie!, was apparently the most watched show ever on BBC4, with an audience of 1.4 million.

The biographer, David Bret, was reportedly unhappy that his work was used without attribution and was quoted by the Standard as saying:
"It even repeats a mistake contained in the book, talking about seven people having been killed in Arras. Irene Bevan, Gracie’s stepdaughter who authorised the book, ticked me off because that was wrong. In the bombing there may not have been any people who died — and at the most there were two. Harry Parr-Davies’s constipation in the film also shows that they have used my book as a source as no-one ever knew this until I revealed it — you just didn’t used to talk about these things."

I can understand why the author might have expected the courtesy of an acknowledgement, but if all that was being used were facts, it is hard to see how he has any right to one.

As regards the constipation (about which, fortunately, no further information is proffered), given that this was, apparently, true, Mr Bret cannot claim any rights to prevent other people referring to it. It is hard to see why there should be any difference if the fact about the bomb in Arras is (as asserted by Mr Bret) false - and it is hard to see what possible claim Mr Bret might have in respect of the copying of the false facts - unless any of this blog's readers have another idea??

"It even repeats a mistake contained in the book, talking about seven people having been killed in Arras. Irene Bevan, Gracie’s stepdaughter who authorised the book, ticked me off because that was wrong.

"In the bombing there may not have been any people who died — and at the most there were two. Harry Parr-Davies’s constipation in the film also shows that they have used my book as a source as no-one ever knew this until I revealed it — you just didn’t used to talk about these things."

1 comment:

Crosbie Fitch said...

I blame Lessig for insinuating that copyright gives an author the right to demand attribution.

There is no natural right to attribution, only that any attribution is accurate (and that no misattribution occurs implicitly, through context say).

The copying of mistakes is often used as evidence that copying occurred, but this is a matter of provenance and most typically relevant to copyright. It's only relevant to attribution if claims of authorship have been made to the derivative work, though an implicit misattribution is not inconceivable.