What happened when Sky News took images from Twitter

Holy crap police man shot at Southwark tube station! on Twitpic

When Sky News needed a picture to illustrate a shooting at Waterloo Station, they found what they needed on Twitter: a photo of the crime scene taken by Joe Neale and posted to Twitter using Twitpic (used above, with permission).

Just one problem: they didn’t bother to tell Joe.

Naturally, other people who had seen the original image, did.

Joe explains in an email:

“I didn’t even know about it as I was in meetings all day but had friends telling me it was on the front of Sky News. I had to tweet Jon [Gripton, News Editor of Sky News Online] to get the name changed  (from “Joe on Twitter” to Joe Neale) which took about 5 hours, Jon then stated I should have received an email which I didn’t, then said I needed to email the editor which I did but with no response.”

To Sky’s (and Jon’s) credit, they didn’t dispute the claim. Because Joe used Twitpic he had the advantage of being able to refer to their terms of service, which specifically say copyright belongs to the owner.

But they haven’t exactly rushed to respond to Joe, and so after 2 weeks, Joe is taking his cause to Twitter with the tag #skypic, making the very salient point: “Newscorp use your photos without permission but have plans to charge for reading their content”, which has since been retweeted across the Twittersphere.

In an email he expands on that point further:

“I think this story is interesting because it points to the dangers of social media for the citizen journalist. I’m pleased that my picture has achieved good reach but I worry that the cooption of apparently free content from twitter by big media is something that may become endemic and devalue the rights in photography. Rupert Murdoch has announced people will have to pay to access his sites from 2010, meantime he doesn’t seem to mind not paying for material and happily infringes on other people’s work.”

I’m waiting for a response from Jon Gripton on this (feel free to post it in the comments, Jon). In the meantime, here’s Joe’s email to Sky’s Julian March which he tweeted in 140-character chunks today:

“My photo was used without permission on the sky news website on the 5th of August 2009, and was taken from my Twitter feed without my permission(I have 20000+ mainly UK based followers including a large section of press/media folk): [URL]

“I waited/requested a confirmation email from Jon Grip (via Twitter) regarding payment that he said had been send out (on the 5th/6th of August, which I did not receive) and was told to chase Phil Wardman (on 11th of August) who did also not reply to me. The communication between us can be followed on my Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/joe). I feel justified to bill you for the use of my photo as a week has past since my last correspondence with Sky but will not charge you for the hours I have spent chasing Sky as I do not think that is fair.

“The conditions for using my photo without permission are £300 for the initial use on the front of the site and then charged at 5% for each additional week it is present on your site starting from August the 5th which will continue as long as the photo is present.

“As it still ranks high in Google search and has no doubt done its part to generated a decent amount of revenue.

“Please find my invoice for £326.24 which permits usage of the photo up to today, Monday the 17th of August.”

UPDATE: Julian March has now been in touch with Joe.


34 thoughts on “What happened when Sky News took images from Twitter

  1. Chris

    Joe Neale’s experience sadly confirms what most mainstream news operators believe: that social media is just a pool of free content. Be that using Twitter for breaking news, or grabbing a still of a dead teenager from Facebook, or using YouTube video without permission. Lip service is paid to engagement, but they’re really just there for taking.

    I’ve worked in newsrooms recently where YouTube footage is used routinely (at least several times a month) without permission on evening news programmes.

    Many TV journalists are genuinely perplexed when you challenge this – the prevailing attitude is that if people have put their content in the public domain they somehow relinquish copyright. And even if they do own the copyright, well – we’ll get away with it won’t we?

    Of course what they really mean is that amateurs shouldn’t have recourse to copyright – because if their (professional) content was ripped off despite being in the public domain, they’d be sure to be kicking up a stink.

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  3. Joe Holmes

    Chris, let me make a couple things a little more clear.

    “the prevailing attitude is that if people have put their content in the public domain they somehow relinquish copyright.”

    Putting any image in public view is far from putting it into the public domain. “Public domain” is a term of art, meaning something that is specifically not protected by copyright, such as works where the copyright has expired. I think what you mean is “the prevailing attitude is that if people have shown their content in public they somehow relinquish copyright.”

    And it should also be clear that a creator of a work automatically has a copyright in that work, at the moment the work is set down in any permanent form. That’s set out in the UK’s Copyright Act of 1911. So the copyright of all original photos, whether on Twitter or anywhere else, is owned by the original photographer.

    Just to make sure this is all clear.

  4. Katherine Warman Kern

    @Joe, standing up for your rights may be a tipping point for media and amateur rightsholders. When it becomes VERY efficient for Newscorp to get photos from content published on the Internet when there’s a “frictionless” to pay for the right (i.e., standard rate card and one-click transaction). Is that in the best interest of the amateur publisher? Let’s see, if all 20,000 followers click thru to his blog (very doubtful) and a $12.00 cpm @jeffjarvis, it would take 25 advertisers to generate $300 in revenue. This concept is not so blue sky. The AP’s new digital wrapper and syndication solution could become a 2-way system. And Reuters @cahearn has offered to offer an alterative to the AP’s solution for monetizing content syndication, maybe they would see the relevance of a two-way barter system of cash and/or credits. http://bit.ly/FqrZP

  5. Joe Holmes

    It’s not a simple issue, that’s for sure. But I am surely tired of major organizations, who should know better, who have a legal staff and a long history defending their own rights, grabbing photos from amateurs hoping no one notices and claiming ignorance. “Oh, someone owns the copyright to that?” They then blame some intern, who is immediately fired.

  6. Chris

    It’s 100% clear to me – but unfortunately not to many of the journalists I work with and train.

    I use the term “public domain” because that is specifically phrase I hear again and again from TV journalists and producers who think it’s perfectly fine to take other people’s work without asking, just because it’s been published on the internet.

    When I challenge this, they fall back on the “defence” that it’s unlikely the copyright-holder will notice. (But increasingly they are – with your case and a couple of other recent ones involving the BBC, Flickr and YouTube.

    So to clarify what I said: I completely agree with you, especially the point you make in your second comment, which is almost exactly what happened at the BBC News Channel after they took a Flickr picture without asking and used it as the “live” backdrop for a two-way.

    I hope you get compensated by Sky News – and I hope it deters them in the future.

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  9. Joe

    Sadly its not just Newscorp publications or even that new, several years ago the normally more respectable Guardian newspaper in the UK ‘borrowed’ entire lines from an online interview some of us had conducted on our own book site with an author who had just landed a good film deal. He was off on holiday and so they couldn’t get him for a quote so they helped themselves to our interview, without asking permission or even giving any credit. They didn’t claim they interviewed him but they didn’t say they took the quotes from another source so the inference was their lazy hack had talked to the author in question. Since we were trying to promote awareness of a good new writer we let it go, but it still annoyed the hell out of us that even good papers assumed they could help themselves without permission or even the courtesy of crediting the original source. Some of it is trying to cut costs and corners for some media, but there’s also, I think, an element of simply laziness, why do the research and digging if you can pinch someone else’s?

  10. Joe Holmes

    “Since we were trying to promote awareness of a good new writer we let it go…”

    I’m thinking that we have to stop doing that. I think that’s one of the ways the news orgs get away with this — counting on the fans to not complain. It’s time to take a stand and start making them pay for the work and property of others. If we don’t all stick together and make them respect our property, they’ll never change.

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  12. Zootopian

    In response to Joe, I’m fairly certain quotes aren’t covered by copyright. You can’t copyright what someone said.

    If they had lifted the whole article, (questions, answers and any other copy etc.,) then it would have been an infringement.

    Legally, the Guardian did nothing wrong, AFAIK.

  13. Chris

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks, I should have added some links to my comments. More on the Flickr image here, including the eventual outcome for the photographer (he was paid £600):



    And the BBC’s North West Tonight get caught out using YouTube footage without permission:


  14. paulbradshaw

    Legally, they didn’t, but I don’t think Joe was saying it was a breach of copyright, just poor attribution. This is something the news media do a lot with other newspapers too, taking quotes from competitors and making it look like they obtained them themselves.

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  16. Steve

    Sky used a photograph they procured online and attributed the photo to the guy who took it.

    He invoiced Sky for the use of his photo.

    Sky paid the invoice.

    Sky didn’t once try to deny that he was owed the money.

    This isn’t some David and Goliath story. It’s a mundane, everyday occurrence.

  17. Chris

    @Steve Do you really think Sky would have paid without the story bouncing round Twitter and onto blogs like these? Unlikely.

    The attitude is take first, pay only when forced to. I speak from the experience of working in a large, mainstream media newsroom where this happens every week.

    So unfortunately, yes, it is an everyday occurrence. But it’s not mundane when it’s your intellectual property being stolen.

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  22. Journa Liz S. Ramirez

    This is not an unusual case. It happens every split second; considering the power of the medium (internet, that is). As a journalist, I have observed this kind of situation is going out of hand. I too borrow pictures from google; it’s available, it’s free, it’s not restricted. It’s already unstoppable. If established broadcating journalism like Sky News is doing such (breaking journalism rules), then anyone else could do it.

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