Former SNP leader Alex Salmond has accused the BBC of bias after the corporation took action against a pro-Scottish independence website after claiming its use of BBC News excerpts in videos was a breach of copyright.
The BBC approached Youtube after it found 13 videos on the official channel of Scottish political blog Wings Over Scotland that used copyrighted material from BBC News.
Following the complaint, Youtube temporarily shut down the channel on 26 July in accordance with its “three strikes” policy, which results in anyone accused of three copyright infringements has their content removed from the video streaming site. The 13 videos remain inaccessible.
In a letter addressed to BBC director general Tony Hall, and printed in Scottish daily paper The National today, Salmond said: “Firstly the news excerpts complained about on Wings Over Scotland seem exactly that – news excerpts which you would fully expect to be covered by the fair comment exemption to copyright.
“Secondly, if the BBC is departing from fair comment on news excerpts, then why were these popular independence supporting websites targeted for enforcement action by the BBC lawyers in London?
“A quick glance at unionist supporting sites shows innumerable BBC excerpts in use on YouTube channels including, for example, one that seems to be supported by The Spectator magazine.”
A second Youtube channel owned by Scottish independence campaigner Peter Curran was also taken down after the BBC complained of copyright infringement.
Curran took to Twitter to complain that the BBC complaint was “politically motivated” because there was “no commercial rationale” and other channels had not been affected.
A BBC spokesperson told Press Gazette: “Whenever we receive complaints about large volumes of our material being posted or used without authorisation we look to take action to protect our copyright.
“This action is normally limited to asking for individual videos to be removed and the BBC did not ask or demand for these whole channels to be taken down. That was a decision for Youtube alone.
“We act irrespective of the political views of the infringing Youtube channels and have taken action against the use of our material by individuals or organisations from across the political spectrum.
“There is a standard process in place if these channels wish to challenge the take down orders and we will consider any representations carefully.”
They later added: “We are aware of the significant debate around our approach to removing content, and will be carrying out a review of our practice in relation to ‘political’ content to ensure it is appropriate for today’s social media environment.
“While we carry out our review, the BBC will not be taking any further action in relation to the Wings Over Scotland videos, which we understand should be re-instated by YouTube.
“We note that the rest of the channel has already been restored by YouTube.
“Until the review is complete, we will also not be seeking the removal of similar content from accounts unless it is used in a substantially misleading manner or we need to act to protect our commercial or brand interests.”
Salmond claims that the infringing videos should be exempt from copyright law under “fair dealing” which allows snippets of copyrighted videos to be reproduced for the purpose of reporting current events, provided it is accompanied by sufficient acknowledgement of the original author.
In his letter Salmond warned that by departing from the fair dealing exemption for news excerpts the BBC lawyers were “bound down a very rocky road”.
Salmond was dropped from a plan to install him as chairman of Johnston Press, publisher of The Scotsman and a number of regional Scottish newspapers, last week.
Norwegian investor Christen Ager-Hanssen, who owns a 20 per cent stake in Johnston Press, had planned to install the former Scottish minister as chairman of the board.
Talking to BBC Scotland Ager-Hanssen said: “Now that we’re going into restructuring, we’d like to have a board with more knowledge and understanding about the technology element of media rather than a public figurehead.”
He added that although he thought Salmond was a “great guy” he had become “too politically infected”.
In July Ofcom ruled that the Alex Salmond show, broadcast on Russia Today, had “misled” viewers after it was revealed that four out of six tweets read out on the pilot show came from people with a connection either to it or the former First Minister of Scotland.