Gideon Levy backs Johann Hari in plagiarism row

Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has backed The Independent’s Johann Hari after the writer faced widespread claims of plagiarism.

After looking into one of Hari’s interviews with Levy, blogger and Yahoo! Ireland editor Brian Whelan revealed he had inserted quotes into the article that Levy had actually written for the newspaper Hareetz.

In that interview Hari wrote: ‘After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: ‘The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”

It has since emerged the quote was lifted word-for-word from one of Levy’s earlier articles.

But in an email exchange Levy backed The Independent columnist: ‘All I have to say is that I stand behind everything which was published in the interview and it was an accurate presentation of my thoughts and words.”

But he did not reply when asked if he knew the quotes would be lifted before The Independent article was published.

Hari justified his actions on his blog: ‘When I’ve interviewed a writer, it’s quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing – and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech’he said.

‘So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech.”

The Independent editor Simon Kelner did not reply to a request for comment yesterday but backed Hari on Twitter, claiming that in the ten years Hari had worked at The Independent it had not received a ‘single complaint about his misrepresenting anyone.”

Meanwhile, media law specialist David Banks said Hari could potentially have breached copyright law – after it emerged he had also lifted quotes from interviews given to other reporters.

Writing on guardian.co.uk, Banks said there was a ‘defence of fair dealing’in copyright works for news coverage, but that ‘such use must be of reasonable length and attributed to the original author”.

Banks claimed quotes from interviews are protected by copyright because ‘when interviewing someone, a journalist uses skill and labour in recording quotes accurately and selecting those most appropriate for publication”.

He added: ‘So the quotes in an interview are protected by copyright. If any are to be used by another publication then the fair dealing defence would have to be used and the copyright owner, possibly a competitor, would have to be credited.

‘This is why many competing publications, rather then credit the original paper that carried the interview, will paraphrase the quotes and put them into reported speech, thus avoiding the issue of copyright.”

UPDATE: 9.49am 29/6/11: Gideon Levy confirmed to Press Gazette that he was not aware the quotes would be lifted from his newspaper column before The Independent article was published.

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