Toronto Sun responds to plagiarism accusation

The hockey blogosphere has accused the Toronto Sun of plagiarism, calling the traditional media clueless when it comes to understanding new media. Toronto Sun editor-in-chief James Wallace responds.

J-Source reported yesterday that a Maple Leafs hockey blog, Pension Plan Puppets (PPP), had accused the Toronto Sun of plagiarism. PPP claims that the Sun ran an article using the blog’s translation of a Czech article without giving the blog credit. The Sun claims that although they did learn about the article through PPP, their own reporter used Google Translate to translate the article, and so credited the original source, the Czech hockey site

The result: the blogosphere has lit up with accusations of plagiarism, claiming that the mainstream media is ignoring the story. One blogger suggested that the traditional media is making it harder for new media to become legitimate (i.e., bloggers do not get press passes to Maple Leafs games).

Toronto Sun editor-in-chief James Wallace responded in an email to J-Source. Here is his letter:

With respect, the blogosphere, not mainstream media, missed the boat entirely on this story.

It wasn’t, as some bloggers have attempted to characterize it, yet another tiresome example of stodgy, old-media dinosaurs refusing to acknowledge the sweat and toil of new media.

It was entirely about the ethical attribution of copyrighted work to original sources and responsible journalism practices.

Let’s be clear on what happened.

Pensionplanpuppets cut, pasted and translated an article written by Czech hockey site that quoted Thomas Kaberle’s father expressing surprise that his son, Tomas, was staying with the Maple Leafs given his son’s relationship with the current coach.

In essence, they walked into someone else’s house, stole a cookie from the owner’s cookie jar and now want credit for baking it. wrote the original article. They invested time and resources to interview Kaberle’s father. Under Canadian law, they are entitled to copyright protection for their work.

Moreover, they are entitled under common journalistic practices and courtesy to receive credit for their work.

If the New York Times wrote an article about a possible sale of the New York Rangers, and Joe Blows Sports Blog in Canada ripped off that article and posted it on his site, we wouldn’t credit Joe – we would credit the New York Times.

PPP ripped off the article, a member of their community translated the story and PPP posted it on their site.

At not time, did PPP have permission from to translate or otherwise use their article.
Julian Sanchez, Managing Editor of Pension Plan Puppets, admitted as much in a recent email after I pointed this out to him.

“At worst we did something that we were unaware was not allowed and despite repeated attempts to contact they seem to not care in the least,” Sanchez wrote. “Their silence confers consent.”

Really? That’s the standard in the blogosphere?

I suggest bloggers who similarly struggle with the notion that the people who actually produce content own the rights to and credit for it ought to consult a lawyer on Canadian copyright law.

As to the notion that we’re reluctant to credit bloggers for their work… I’m happy to credit new media for original work and there are many, many excellent bloggers and journalists working on the web who ethically credit original sources. That doesn’t mean I’ll credit Google for helping me find a story on the web, nor will I necessarily credit a website that finds a nugget panned by someone else.

Similarly, the notion that newspapers look down their long noses at bloggers  and web journalists is yesterday’s news and smacks of insecurity. Traditional media still have bad habits and are frequently clumsy in how we do things. But look inside our newsrooms and you’ll find our view of online news and blogging has changed dramatically in the past few years and continues to change.

That doesn’t mean we abandon the fundamental legal and ethical practices that have guided our industry when we write stories.

Our reporter did indeed see the story first on PPP. He then went to the original source,, used Google Translate to verify the quotes from Kaberle’s dad, did his own work and made changes on the quotes to ensure himself they were accurate, then wrote an original story based on those quotes, appropriately citing as the source.

The outrage expressed by bloggers and posters who picked up PPP’s torch has been a tad self-promotional and decidedly misguided. On the other hand, it helped give our web hits at a lift.

Cheers to all for that.
James Wallace
Toronto Sun