When will we stop saying “Pictures from Twitter” and “Video from YouTube”?

Image from YouTube

Image from YouTube

Over the weekend the BBC had to deal with the embarrassing ignorance of someone in their complaints department who appeared to believe that images shared on Twitter were “public domain” and “therefore … not subject to the same copyright laws” as material outside social networks.

A blog post, from online communities adviser Andy Mabbett, gathered thousands of pageviews in a matter of hours before the BBC’s Social Media Editor Chris Hamilton quickly responded:

“We make every effort to contact people, as copyright holders, who’ve taken photos we want to use in our coverage.

“In exceptional situations, ie a major news story, where there is a strong public interest in making a photo available to a wide audience, we may seek clearance after we’ve first used it.”

(Chris also published a blog post yesterday expanding on some of the issues, the comments on which are also worth reading)

The copyright issue – and the existence of a member of BBC staff who hadn’t read the Corporation’s own guidelines on the matter – was a distraction. What really rumbled through the 170+ comments – and indeed Andy’s original complaint – was the issue of attribution.

Why is it that news organisations still attribute images and video to the platforms they were hosted on?

The BBC – thanks to the UGC hub that Chris heads up – are actually better than most news organisations on this front. Channel 4 News can be seen broadcasting footage captioned “Video from YouTube”; newspapers and magazines will similarly occasionally credit images as being “from” Twitter or Facebook (or link to a research journal’s homepage rather than the research paper being reported on, as one commenter pointed out).

It already seems like a statement from a bygone era. Tom Morris, for example, argued:

“When someone calls you Crimewatch, you don’t thank BT or Vodafone or T-Mobile: not seeing the human at the end of the line, that’s the damn problem.”

Of course, the comment overlooks one of the characteristics of digital media: the ease of replication. Quite often an image or video will reach us through a dozen intermediaries: publishing and distribution overlap.

Coupled with the time pressures of newsrooms, this can lead journalists to use media without knowing their true authorship.

And there’s the problem.

While we may occasionally think that some stories are too important to waste time tracking down the copyright owner of images, the importance of identifying the provenance of those images – and of giving the viewer the critical context to make a judgement on it – are not trivial matters.

Just as we expect journalists to have a very good reason to use quotes without attribution, the same should apply to images and video.

Social networks can make attribution easier: during the Chinese earthquake, for example, I could trace the source of a tweet relatively easily. And there are a variety of other tools and techniques for tracing information online. The BBC, again, is actually very good at this.

But even when the source cannot be traced – and we are confident of the material’s validity – we need a better way of describing the source of that material, or the point at which the journalist came across the material: “Photo published on Twitter by Janet Jones”; “Video republished by youtube.com/anaconda” or even “attribution being sought”.

(Given that we are often publishing cross-platform a similar option may be to have a page which provides further information about the provenance of UGC material used on-air and in print, a sort of iReport in reverse)

A failure to do so betrays not just a lack of respect for the users of social media who created that media or brought it to our attention, but a lack of care in the process of journalism itself.


25 thoughts on “When will we stop saying “Pictures from Twitter” and “Video from YouTube”?

  1. Martin W

    Isn’t the anonymity we often insist on a contributing factor? Perhaps it’s not conscious but it’s easy to assume that someone using an obviously made up name might not be that bothered about attribution. Yes, it’s a false assumption and they should assume that permission’s refused unless they hear otherwise, but you can see how it comes about.

    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      It may be a contributing factor, but I’d compare that to a journalist assuming someone doesn’t wish to be named without actually asking them. That’s behaviour I’d expect from a journalism student (and which I try to get rid of when I’m teaching), not a professional.

  2. mellonmarshall

    hey let face it, most of the time, you are quoting the guy who has the copyright and all the rights to share it, cause once it there twitter and YouTube say it their until you delete off them if that even possible

    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      They claim rights to reproduce it, which they need to operate their service (i.e. every time YouTube is accessed is a copy of your original). But you retain licensing rights. Not sure on YouTube’s ability to license the content of users – would be interested if you know.

  3. Chris Dodd

    One issue that Martin W has missed, is that occasionally fake names would be inappropriate for broadcast – often these could be missed by production teams (as shown by the company that bought expertsexchange.com!).

    I imagine more simply though, that the websites who store the content have provisions in their terms, that allow them to sub-license content.

    If this is the case, then often the broadcasters would be licensing the content from the website, and therefore correctly attributing.

    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      It depends on the host, but Twitter for example doesn’t sub-license at all and has specific guidelines for the use of tweets https://support.twitter.com/entries/114233 – I haven’t seen ‘Images from Plixi’ ever mentioned, for example (which did try to retain licensing rights). YouTube’s licence doesn’t either – see http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/youtube/thread?tid=58eb270fe813c19d&hl=en – it also now has Creative Commons licences.

      1. Chris Dodd

        There is this in the T&Cs:

        8. Rights you licence

        8.1 When you upload or post Content to YouTube, you grant:

        to YouTube, a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, transferable licence (with right to sub-licence) to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform that Content in connection with the provision of the Service and otherwise in connection with the provision of the Service and YouTube’s business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats [and through any media channels];”

        Which to me, seems to cover pretty much everything – though I’m not a lawyer – or even close!

      2. Paul Bradshaw Post author

        Thanks – “in connection with the service” is the key phrase here. They are reserving the right to use video to promote it, amongst other things (my reading anyway – likewise not a lawyer). But that doesn’t allow them to claim authorship which can then be used in attribution (which is what I’m talking about in the post, not copyright or licensing)

  4. Gary Hudson

    Surely, contributers to YouTube consent, under the terms of use, to their work being used/re-used/re-versioned by other users (which could include news organisations) so ‘Pictures from YouTube’ covers it (usually as an explanation for poor quality rather than as a means of attribution). For the other examples above, the normal copyright considerations apply.

    1. Paul Bradshaw Post author

      If it’s the standard YouTube licence, then no (see the link in my other comment). Even if it’s the new Creative Commons licence that they’ve adopted, the terms include attribution.

  5. Tim M.

    Haven’t read the million link-thru’s on all this, which is also to the point: Ripping content on the web is the speed of the newsroom these days. If you don’t do it, you’re behind (and/or more honest than the other guy).

    The trouble arises, in my view, when someone becomes the subject of a news story and then has once-quasi private images posted all across the land. The first example I can remember of this was when Spitzer’s escort friend had several racy (of course) images of herself from facebook posted/printed on/in the NY Times. What about right to privacy concerns? And clearly the lines and ethics are different in the U.S. from say, Great Britain.

  6. Alison

    Good post Paul; I find the drift net fishing approach to reproducing others’ online content a concern.
    Guidelines are changeable but I think asking the author/photographer for permission should, in most circumstances, be a constant.
    Twitter or Flickr users (for example) aren’t hard to get hold of, and crediting and linking to @username & their page at least shows transparency and some acknowledgement. No one I’ve asked has said no yet – if they did, I’d have to accept it.
    Contacting the user can also give you a better angle on the story, or at least a new way into it – their perspective, their experiences – and, of course, you can offer payment for content, just as you would a freelance photographer.

  7. Sarah Marshall

    Funnily enough I was talking to David Banks (McNae’s author and media law consultant) yesterday on just this topic. He was very clear that the copyright for images and videos posted on Twitter, YouTube, Google+ Facebook is always retained by the person who created the photo. It seems the licensing only applies to the social media platforms.

  8. Gary Hudson

    Thanks, Sarah and Paul, for putting me right and Alison for good sense(I was basing my observation on an experience where our copyright material was re-used on YouTube: ‘You retain all of your ownership rights in your Content, but you are required to grant limited licence rights to YouTube and other users of the Service’). The key part of the YouTube licence appears to be :’You shall not copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, broadcast, display, sell, license, or otherwise exploit any Content for any other purposes without the prior written consent of YouTube or the respective licensors of the Content.’

  9. David Hopkins

    And on this story about the honeymooner who died in a shark attack – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14552788 – it looks like the photo might have been pulled from Facebook or some photo-sharing website, and there is no attribution there … surely if they can’t get the permission before then they should:

    (1) say no permission given but are chasing,
    (2) acknowledge source website and source user
    (3) if permission is given say that too!

    It’s not rocket science .. is it?

  10. Emily

    I’m an archive producer for tv and advertising and have had occasion several times to licence clips from YouTube and Flickr. I always deal with the original uploader and never with the companies themselves.

  11. Chris

    Isn’t the issue just a legacy one? I think it just boils down to the simple fact that many writers, journalists and media organizations still operate under outdated guidelines. Before social media, it was pretty easy: you quoted the source (i.e. the brand) where you found the item. The issue of rights/licensing was already taken care of on that end. I hate to pile on media folks for not being cutting edge (there’s more than enough of that already), but this seems to me to be a lack of understanding of how a site like YouTube works.

    The analysis of YouTube’s T&C’s is helpful here but for anyone who has spent a significant of time online during the growth of social networks should already understand the difference between YouTube and something like NBC News.

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  13. Silvia

    Last week I took a picture of the riots aftermath in Ealing and then tweeted it. That evening I saw the same picture on BBC news and I thought it was mere coincidence. I would never have thought that BBC would use a picture without permission. But now after reading this I’m starting to realize it was actually mine.

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