Test your online journalism law: 2 – the celebrity visit without pictures

Every day this week I am publishing an example of a legal dilemma that a journalism student might face (why? Read my previous post on students being publishers, and the responsibilities that come with that). I can’t promise a ‘right answer’ at the end of the week – but I hope you can comment on what a student publisher might do – and why.

Case 2: Celebrity visit – and you don’t have pictures

This is a true story. A fire drill has just ended, and as you’re walking back to the classroom you think you see a famous rugby player in the crowd. Your friend says “Nah, it’s not him”.

Like a good journalist, you don’t accept that, so you go to the university reception to ask if Famous Rugby Player is indeed around today. Yes, they say, he is.

Apparently he’s promoting a healthy eating scheme – and also looking at a new piece of kit designed by the health faculty.

You get the details of what he’s doing there, and where he will be when, make a quick call to your editor, and then chase off to find him.

Once there, you interview him, a marketing rep from the company paying him, and a representative from the health faculty.

But your phone runs out of battery – so you have no photos.

As you get back to the newsroom, Famous Rugby Star’s visit is already all over Twitter.

You want to get this story up on your blog before the local newspaper – but a celebrity story is nothing without images.

Thankfully, a few of those tweeting about the visit have taken snaps. Also, one has uploaded some brief video footage to YouTube, and embedding is enabled.

Meanwhile, you have emailed the marketing rep and the health faculty rep for images – both have been promised, but you have no idea how long it will take.

The questions

  1. What are the legal issues here – and what tests need to be met for them to be an issue (or not)?
  2. What defence could you mount?
  3. How likely is it that legal action would result?
  4. Would you publish – and why?

‘Answers’ and discussion in the comments

2 thoughts on “Test your online journalism law: 2 – the celebrity visit without pictures

  1. John Davenport

    In most cases, no one would care, but better safe than sorry. You should write to someone who took a picture and ask them for a permission to publish it, or better yet, ask them to post the picture under an open license on Flickr or elsewhere. In most cases this will solve your problem in a matter of minutes.

  2. Paul Bradshaw Post author

    ‘Answers’ as promised:
    1. The main legal issue is copyright. The image posted on Twitter is automatically covered by copyright, as is the video on YouTube. The test is: do you have permission to use either?
    2. The defence – in the case of the YouTube video if embedding is enabled and you embed the video then you could argue that permission to do so had been implicitly granted, and the creator of the work could turn that off at any time. You can also embed tweets, which might be one way of strengthening any defence for using the image – although I suspect that would not be as strong a defence (I am not a lawyer, by the way!). The simple answer is to ask if the user took the photo, and if you can use it (don’t just ask if you can use the photo – they might say yes but have not taken it).
    3. The likelihood of any legal action depends on a number of factors: most important is whether you have prevented the creator from making any money from the image or video – in other words, commercial damage. Another key factor is if you have attributed the authorship of the image or video – with an embed this is automatic anyway, but if you’re not embedding then make sure you say who took the photo.
    4. Good practice here would be simply to ask permission – if it’s on Twitter the user is likely to respond quickly – it’s also good distribution. And always make sure to attribute authorship.


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