Sotto immune from plagiarism raps, top aide says

Posted at 08/17/12 5:44 PM

Sotto not covered by copyright rules, lawyer claims

MANILA, Philippines - The chief of staff of Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto on Friday said they committed no crime in lifting portions of his anti-reproductive health (RH) bill speech at the Senate from the web.

Atty. Hector Villacorta also feels that blogger Sarah Pope of thehealthyeconomist.com is just reacting after her sensitivities were offended.

Villacorta claimed that the Internet is public domain, that governments are exempted from copyright rules, while Sotto himself enjoys parliamentary immunity as a legislator.

Villacorta told ABS-CBN News Sotto used research for his speech since he is not a doctor.

"Nagtatampo pala sila pag naqu-quote sila. Blog site is public domain, you should be open to be quoted from all over the world. What law did we violate only her sensitivity was.  Because there is no crime, we used information from public domain they're making issue of the way it was quoted."

"The rule of copyright gives government a chance to use some of materials. There's principle in law if there's a crime there should be a law punishing it. Was she commercially injured? Wala naman eh. No crime, no law violated."

Villacorta was also asked to comment on claims by journalist and blogger Raissa Robles that Sotto may have also copied from 5 bloggers and one United Nations briefer.

'Anyone can use blogs'

"Blogs are public domain. Anybody can use it [sic]. Government is exempted from the copyright rule. As a general principle,  you cannot withhold information from government," he said.

Villacorta said Sotto's speech and Pope's work quoted a book by Dr. Natasha McBride on the side effects of  birth control pills.

He said Pope can sue Sotto in the US if the Philippines has a treaty with the US on intellectual property.

Asked how Sotto is taking the controversy over the alleged plagiarism, Villacorta said, "he is smiling and napapailing because content of speech being sidetracked."

"Bloggers, beware what you put out on the web. You should not cry if used by the web," he claimed.

Caught via Google search

However, Alfredo Melgar, a blogger who pointed out the likeness of Pope's 2011 blog port to Sotto;s privilege speech, argued that it's how Pope's blog was used, and not the fact that it was used, that spells the diffrence.

“Totoong pwedeng gumamit ng impormasyon, pero yung paraan ng paggamit ng info katulad ng ginawa nila na pangungusap ni Sarah Pope ginamit, at 'di sinabi na kay Sarah Pope," he explained.

Melgar pointed out that Sotto's office still hasn't owned up to plagiarizing the piece, but merely stressed that they quoted from the same book Pope referred to in her blog.

Melgar said Pope herself said the lifted parts in Sotto's speech was hers and not from her reference book.

He said Google search was key to how he caught the copied content.

He said that after Sotto made his emotional speech against birth control, he was drawn to the technical terms Sotto used.

Those technical words are what he keyed in to Google search and which led to Pope’s blog.

Melgar said 8 sentences from Pope's blog were in Sotto's speech.