Sotto acting above the law, US blogger says

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Aug 18 2012 04:20 AM | Updated as of Aug 18 2012 08:06 PM

Sarah Pope: Think of Sotto in elections

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - Senator Tito Sotto is acting like he is above the law by plagiarizing someone else's work with impunity, an American blogger said Friday night.

Sarah Pope, in a telephone interview from Florida with Tina Monzon-Palma on ANC's "The World Tonight," reminded Sotto about copyright law amid allegations that the senator's staff copied one of her blog posts verbatim and without permission for Sotto's speech against the reproductive health bill.

"He is acting as though he's above the law, that he is above copyright law, that he can do whatever he wants, he can step on whoever he wants,  to get his agenda through the Philippine legislature," Pope said.

"That's just wrong,  that's poor very behavior. I hope the Filipino people great note of this behavior  and subsequent denial on his bad behavior on the part of Senator Sotto. Think about this when they go to the election booths when he's up for reelection," she added.

The Web is not 'public domain'

US tech and legal experts have clarified that the Web is not "public domain."

Intellectual property rights are protected by Republic Act No. 8293 in the Philippines. In the United States, plagiarism is a criminal offense on both the state and federal levels.

While classic works such as those made by Shakespeare and Beethoven are now public domain, much online content is under copyright protection.

"The public domain is not a place. A work of authorship is in the 'public domain' if it is no longer under copyright protection or if it failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection. Works in the public domain may be used freely without the permission of the former copyright owner," according to the US Copyright Office.

RA 8293 in the Philippines also requires either full attribution of the original source or creator of protected content, or the author's prior written consent to reuse published works that "are made available to the public by wire or wireless means."

The law also protects under copyright "derivative works," such as translated material or data compilations that are published. It does not allow copyright for government-created content.

The law allows fair use of a limited length of copyrighted material, but again requires full attribution of the information source.

RA 8293 also bars the use of an author's name or his work that may harm the original creator of the content. Pope has accused Sotto of "twisting the message" of her blog "to suit his own purposes against the women of the Philippines."

She said Filipino women deserve the choice to be informed about and use contraceptive pills based on their own personal situation. 

Pope, who writes mainly about food recipes, said her blog is copyrighted.

"If you go to my blog, there's a copyright notice there. That's very clear. While a blog is meant to be shared, it's meant to be shared with proper credit given to those that do the work to get that great information out there," she said.

Sotto's chief of staff,  Atty. Hector Villacorta, told ABS-CBN News Friday that the senator can't be sued because the Internet is allegedly "public domain," claimed that government officials are exempted from copyright rules, and that the senator enjoys parliamentary immunity as a legislator.

He also claimed Pope is just reacting after her sensitivities were offended.

Sotto also earlier denied copying the blogger's work, only for his chief of staff to later admit the act.

Villacorta has admitted they used Pope's work "in quoting" a book written by a certain Dr. Natasha McBride.

"I put her work in my words and you copied my words," the blogger has told Sotto's camp.

Sotto and his chief of staff have not likewise shown to the public an actual copy of McBride's work that the senator said he is basing his arguments against the RH bill.

'Running with tail behind legs'

The Sotto camp's statements have triggered a fierce backlash from the American blogger.

"[Sotto's] behavior following the incident has been even worse. By denying and trying to hide behind his government immunity, which should be an embarassment to himself," Pope said.

"When you try to hide behind your government immunity, that shows you've been backed into a corner and you have no more cards to play. You know you are wrong and you're just trying to run away with your tail between your legs," she added.

"What Senator Sotto should have done is say 'Ugh, we made a mistake. Yes proper credit should have been given for this information that was taken illegally from my blog and plagiarized from my blog, we made a mistake we are sorry and can we move on,'" Pope said.

"You know what, if he had just said he was sorry and said he was wrong and that it was a mistake and that he should have given proper credit to my blog then we wouldn't even be talking right now," she said.

Pope said plagiarism is a problem in the blogging community.

"It's something I talk to friends who blog about all the time. Our material is being taken without our consent. It is a tremendous problem," she said.

Journalist and blogger Raissa Robles said Sotto copied from not just Pope but 4 other bloggers, as well as a briefing paper.

Filipino novelist Miguel Syjuco, winner the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, also said Sotto “lifted, verbatim, from three sources easily found online" for his second speech against the RH bill.

Pope said US bloggers can report plagiarism incidents to proper authorities. However, Sotto's act is a different matter.

"Typically those websites that took your information illegally, that information is removed. But in the case of a senator who is a public figure he is an elective representative of the people, he's elected to protect the people and represent the best interest of the people. And yet he is acting as thought he's above the law," she said.

'Sotto should apologize'

She said the issue can be settled by a letter signed by the Sotto apologizing and admitting the plagiarism.

"Absolutely, absolutely. If he would send me a sincere, not the ridiculous insulting rude comment that his chief of staff posted on my blog yesterday, which should be an embarassment to his office,  if he, Senator Sotto writes a sincere letter of apology saying 'this was a mistake, we apologize,' I would post that on my blog," she said.

"Send me that letter of apology I'll post that on my blog and we can consider this issue done," Pope added. - with ANC