A “fake journalist” has been fined after plagiarising a regional daily’s copy with the intention of benefitting financially.
Jack, 27, committed the offences while running a website called the North East News Agency, in which he copied news stories from the Darlington-based Echo and passed them off as his own work.
On the site, each news story was followed by a note which urged readers to consider making a voluntary financial contribution “to support the work of North East Alternative News and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories”.
In many cases the news stories were an identical word-for-word lift from the Echo, including the photographs.
According to the Echo’s report, Jack, who is from Darlington, told the court he had not received any donations.
Shaun Trevor, from Darlington Council’s trading standards team, started investigating North East News Agency in July 2019 as well as Woof Woof Photography, a website Jack set up offering professional photographic services including wedding and prom portraits.
Mr Trevor found that some of the images used were the copyrighted works of professional photographers and used without their permission, and were also passed off as Jack’s own work.
Echo editor Karl Holbrook said: “In an age of fake news, it is so important that people know and trust where their news comes from.
“I congratulate Darlington Council for tackling this flagrant breach of that trust and clear attempt to pass off the hard work of trained Northern Echo journalists as their own.
“The news media faces so many threats right now and our staff have been working around the clock in difficult circumstances, often from their kitchen worktops and spare bedrooms during this pandemic, to keep the public informed.
“As a society, we need to protect the good work of journalists like ours and call out the actions of charlatans like this wherever we see it.”
Jack pleaded guilty to fraud, which occurred between 2 July and 17 December last year, as well as two charges of publishing images which he knew were infringing copies of copyright.
He was fined £50 for each of the three offences and ordered to pay costs of £572.28 plus a victim surcharge of £32, a total of £754.28.