WHY did Sunday Mirror stoop to slurping selfies for smut sting?

Tabloid splashes, MP resigns - but there's a BIG copyright issue here

Too cheap or perhaps simply not bothered enough to manufacture its own selfies, the Sunday Mirror newspaper stole photos to entrap a Tory MP on Twitter. Now the owners of the photos might get the last laugh.

The tabloid had spent the summer fishing for a Tory scalp – sending flattering tweets to several MPs from a fake account in the name of "Sophie Wittams". Eventually the paper found an MP dumb enough to bite.

Junior minister Brooks Newmark, with the Thick of It-sounding job title “Minister for Civil Society”, resigned after admitting sending a "below the waist" photo to the reporter. The tweets appeared to use photos of Swedish model Malin Sahlén, without permission, and bikini selfies plucked from the internet, again apparently obtained without permission.

Sahlén has pursued copyright infringers before – a course also open to Charlene Tyler, the owner of the bikini selfie used by the Mirror. Tyler told the Telegraph: “I think grown adults can do whatever they like as long as both of them are over the age of consent."

In 2010 the Telegraph itself was censured for luring Vince Cable into some non-sexual indiscretions, with two reporters posing as constituents.

News industry regulations on entrapment vary from laws on what the police can legally do – but, broadly speaking, the ethical justification must fulfil two criteria. The sting must reveal something serious (a crime, or hypocrisy), and can't induce the subject into doing something they wouldn't otherwise do.

So, for example, the US Federal Drug Administration's 2012 sting on Google over advertising by illegal pharmacies induced the public to pay for black market drugs. Yet the operation yielded four million pages of evidence in support of accusations that Google's sales staff were supporting black market pharmacies. Google paid $500,000,000 forfeiture to make the case go away, and a further $250m to settle a case from shareholders.

Does the Mirror's entrapment of Brooks Newmark fulfil the two criteria? That's for you to decide. At least one barrister believes the newspaper's sting breached the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which makes it an offence to “[cause] a person to indulge in sexual activity without consent”.

For the innocent bystanders – whose exclusive rights of reproduction, and also moral rights over their images were abused by the Mirror – it's a lot more clear cut. What is baffling is that the Mirror couldn't even take its own selfie. Can't they find the staff nowadays? ®

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