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August 26, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:32am

Guardian takes legal action to shut down parody headline generator

By Freddy Mayhew

The publisher of The Guardian has taken legal action to shut down a parody headline generator which it claims has infringed its copyright by using photographs of its journalists and contributors.

Imitation headlines parodying the Guardian’s online op-eds with real author byline pictures were shared on social media in December alongside the hashtag #trollingtheguardian, which trended on Twitter.

Guardian News and Media has now issued a take down notice through solicitors Bristows LLP to the web hosting provider for the website, which produced the headlines.

Users of the website were able to write their own headlines in the Guardian style and select the byline of a number of Guardian and Observer journalists, complete with real byline pictures.

One of the spoof headlines that was shared on social media in July appears to have been taken as genuine by some.

It featured politician David Lammy’s byline and picture alongside the headline: “Lets [sic] be very clear on this, “its [sic] okay to be white” is a nazi thing. It will never be okay to be white on our watch.”

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It was debunked by the Reuters Fact Check team who said it appeared to have been created using the fake headline generator website.

A Guardian News and Media spokesperson said: “GNM has filed a complaint with the web hosting provider for the website at due to the website’s reproduction of copyright protected photographs of GNM’s journalists and contributors”.

Twitter account The Grauniad, which tweets at @grauniadmeme and has nearly 20,000 followers, has shared GNM’s legal letter in full online. (The Grauniad is a nickname coined by Private Eye which dates back to a period when The Guardian had a reputation for typos).

The account appears to have also been targeted by lawyers in the belief that it was behind the fake headline generator website. It said it wasn’t behind it, but the man who was had “decided to pull the plug”.

The website is no longer available and showed an error message when Press Gazette tried to visit it for this article. However it can still be accessed using the Internet Archive.

In their letter, GNM’s lawyers listed byline pictures for 23 of its journalists and contributors, including Owen Jones and Carole Cadwalladr.

The lawyers called for the website to be shut down and for any details of the site’s operator to be shared so that “if necessary, GNM can bring legal proceedings” against them for copyright infringement.

If the details are not shared, GNM could issue an application seeking disclosure of the information.

In 2015 lawyers for The Guardian wrote to the Martial Arts Guardian opposing the latter title’s attempt to trade mark its name.

At the time Press Gazette noted that there were at least 50 publications in the UK with the name Guardian in the title.

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