The Linda Ikeji Blog (LIB) commands a great deal of readership and influence in Nigeria with an average of 100 comments per blogpost and over 425,000 followers on twitter. Earlier this month, it was reported that LIB was taken down from the Google-owned “Blogger” platform and later restored by Google. Linda Ikeji disclosed that LIB was taken down following allegations of plagiarism and copyright infringement, presumably under the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). However Google has declined to categorically state why the blog was taken down but generally explained that: “We [Google] take violations of policies very seriously as such activities diminish the experience for our users. When we are notified of the existence of content that may violate our Terms of Service, we act quickly to review it and determine whether it actually violates our policies. If we determine that it does, we remove it immediately.”
This blogpost considers LIB’s recent experience from an intellectual property (IP) perspective and concludes that this case should be an eye-opener to bloggers, especially in Kenya.
As we know plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same thing. The key distinguishing factor is the use intended. A copyright infringer uses your work in order to derive some commercial benefit. On the other hand, a plagiarizer uses your work in order to assume your identity as the author for purposes of recognition and attribution. Therefore every case of copyright infringement can also be plagiarism but not all cases of plagiarism amount to copyright infringement.
In the case of LIB, Ikeji addresses here the allegations of plagiarism and copyright infringement made against her blog:
“My understanding of plagiarism is when you take someone’s work and republish it verbatim as your own work. I don’t do that. But if I have ever done that in the past then I apologize. It was an oversight. I do get a lot of original content, way more than any other blogger in this country. Some of the biggest news stories in this country in recent times was broken by LIB. From Goldie’s death (God rest her soul) Aluu4, ABSU rape, P-Square saga, Solomon Akiyesi and plenty more. And when I take news from other sources, I always credit them. When I don’t give credit is when the news is everywhere so I write it in my own words and make it mine. I don’t believe that is a crime. I admit that I have used photos without giving credit. I apologize. That will never happen again. You learn every day. And I have learnt from this.”
Here in Kenya, the case of media personality Caroline Mutoko’s blatantly plagiarised article has been aptly by one of her own colleagues here. Despite Mutoko’s vehement denials, it was evident to most observers at the time that the matter was ripe for both criminal and civil action at the instance of the copyright owner who reportedly confirmed that Mutoko never sought authorisation to use the work. Although the fair dealing provision of the Kenya Copyright Act may serve as a defence in cases of infringement, there remains a compulsory requirement of attribution which reads “subject to acknowledgement of the source”.
Still on the issue of copyright, an interesting issue that arose in the LIB story relates to abuse of the DMCA take-down procedures. Ikeji claims that Google restored LIB “in record time” after verifying that the allegations of copyright infringement were “bogus and deliberate sabotage.” Generally speaking, bogus copyright and trademark complaints threatens all kinds of creative expression on the Internet. In this connection, many will recall the recent case where Wikimedia Foundation refused to take down that notorious monkey selfie. The monkey selfie claim by Caters News Agency against Wikimedia is considered by some as “dubious” and a DMCA abuse. See our discussion of the monkey selfie dispute here.
In addition to copyright issues, there is also an important trade marks lesson in the LIB story. It was reported that once LIB was taken down by Google, Ikeji was forced to direct her readers to a temporary site: lindaikeji.mobi since “cybersquatters had acquired all her potential domain names” including the domain name: lindaikeji.net which had been registered by one Mukhtar Dan’Iyan through an alias.
Ordinarily one would expect that any blog which is able to get thousands of comments and sell advertising space to companies, such as LIB, would have long taken the necessary steps to protect the LIB name as a trade mark and register several domain names closely related to LIB as a defensive measure against infringers and squatters respectively. However, this appears not to have been the case in the LIB story.
In the final analysis, any serious online content creator must be aware of the boundaries of IP and operate within those boundaries. The role of IP becomes more critical where the online content creator’s blog or website is commercial in nature.