The BBC’s fundamental misunderstanding of copyright

On 6 August, I sent a complaint to the BBC:

Your reporting of this evening’s riot in Tottenham included photographs which you said, were “from Twitter”.

You may have found them via that website but they would have been hosted elsewhere and taken by other photographers, whom you did not name and whose copyright you may have breached.

You have done this with other recent news stories such as the Oslo attacks.

This is not acceptable.

In future, please give proper credit to photographers.

Here’s their reply, with my annotations and emboldening:

Dear Mr MABBETT [I’ve no idea why thay capitalised that — AM]

Reference CAS-918869-HR7W5Y

Thank you for your contact.

I understand you were unhappy that pictures from Twitter are used on BBC programmes as you feel it may be a breach of copyright.

Twitter is a social network platform which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. The BBC is aware of copyright issues and is careful to abide by these laws.

I appreciate you feel the BBC shouldn’t be using pictures from Twitter [I didn’t say that — AM] and so I’ve registered your comment on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers as well as the programme makers and producers of ‘BBC News’.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

I’m speechless.

Update: I’ve sent a follow-up complaint to the BBC, you can see it below.

Update: Please note this comment, by Chris Hamilton, BBC News Social Media Editor.

Update: I have now received a further response from the BBC; quoted below with my reply to it.

Update: On 18 August, I received another response from the BBC; also quoted below.

251 thoughts on “The BBC’s fundamental misunderstanding of copyright

  1. Mike Rawlins

    See also You Tube..

    How many times have the BBC shown stuff published on You Tube with no credit other than ‘You Tube’

    The BBC does some great work but its level of arrogance, and that is what it is, is unbelievable.

    I remember being at a press briefing after the EDL demo in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs Police were making their own internal video about the day and their cameraman asked if he could shoot through the viewfinder of the BBC camera, pull back to show the ACC being interviewed.

    The BBC bod said “no, anything in the camera is copyright….”

    I kid you not..

    1. Ben McGinnes

      Actually YouTube includes a non-exclusive commercial license for all content hosted on it and added a Creative Commons license to the options two or three months ago.

  2. Andy Mabbett Post author


    I missed this in the e-mail boilerplate:

    This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

    1. Other Paul

      So, basically, there’s no dialogue permitted here.

      A casual passer-by might be forgiven for believing they were soliciting engagements with contact us or make a commentor complain to us mechanisms only to gather a mailing list. At the very least their behaviour is almost – they do at least address, if not answer your initial contact – indistinguishable from an outfit that does just that.

  3. Karl Hodge

    How about replying:

    “Thank you for clarifying the BBC’s position on the copyright of creative content. I am satisfied by your explanation. In fact, it has given me a rather brilliant business idea. I have recorded every episode of Doctor Who for the last four series – and I now intend to package these myself and sell them on eBay.

    After all, television is a network platform which is available to most people who have a TV and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. I am aware of copyright issues and have always been careful to abide by the law.

    Thank you for clarifying them for me so succinctly.”

    1. Martin Cameron

      Great logic. Love your solution.

      I am appalled that the BBC, a multi-billion pound media organisation use the expression ‘public domain’ to mean ‘displayed in public’.

      I refuse to believe that they do not really know its real meaning; that is, no longer restricted by copyright (whether it be due to expiry or by declaration by the copyright owner).

      In my opinion they are trying to exploit the common misunderstanding of the expression ‘public domain’ in order to say ‘Run along sonny and leave this to the big boys’. Don’t fall for it. Not only should the originators of infringed art insist on a credit; they should insist on payment too.

      By the way – NEVER, NEVER send unsolicited photographs etc to the BBC, even when they request you send them in to their programmes. In their terms and conditions they automatically take a perpetual licence to use them in whatever capacity they choose.

          1. Crosbie Fitch


            In which world would you prefer to live?

            One in which the public domain comprised all published works, all mankind’s science, technology, and art?

            Or one in which the public domain comprised a few ancient works of literature no longer subject to the publishing corporations’ multi-century monopoly?

            Are you demanding that the BBC is corrected to adhere to an unjust 18th century privilege? Or are you interested to use the BBC’s correct understanding of the public domain to demonstrate that all should be at liberty to copy and communicate all published works?

            1. Dave Cousin

              Copyright laws mean that those people who put time and effort into creating works get fair credit and payment, if copyright law that protected them didn’t exist they couldn’t earn a living and wouldn’t create pictures, video and other media. So it isn’t an unjust 18th century privilege. The BBC’s understanding simply isn’t correct especially if they are taken public domain to mean free for them to use and without giving credit: this is simply not lawful regardless of everything else. If a photographer wants to share to Twitter users their picture hosted by them on their site or elsewhere then they shouldn’t automatically lose their copyright. Also the BBC must bare in mind that a lot of pictures linked to on Twitter aren’t linked to by the original copyright owners anyway.

        1. Anonymous

          >the common meaning is an esoteric meaning. Some old meaning I dredged up is totally the opposite of esoteric

          That’s not how language works. Get over it.

        2. Stephen Booth


          Like many things in the English language (and no doubt many other languages as well) the phrase ‘public domain’ has different meanings depending on the context. The definition you cite is suited to a context of talking about knowledge or information. There the phrase ‘public domain’ simply indicates that the knowledge is well known, as opposed to to being known to only a few. For example “The core precepts of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths are in the public domain, those of Scientology, however, are a closely guarded secret.”

          When you start talking about copyright (literally the right to make copies) the context changes. There the phrase ‘Public Domain’ has a different and legally defined meaning. There that a piece of creative work (be that writing, recorded speech, photograph, drawing, painting, music, compilable code or whatever) may be used/copied without first gaining permission (and possibly paying a fee to) the originator, their estate or their agents/representatives due to explicit abandonment of copyright (where the originator formally releases the work to the public domain), implicit abandonment of copyright (usually due to ongoing failure to defend said copyright) or the passage of time (after a period of time, determined by national law so what is in the public domain in one place may not be in another, after the death of the originator the work becomes public domain). Simply publishing a work does not fulfill any of these criteria.


          1. Crosbie Fitch

            Yes Stephen, but the context of copyright law has only entered the public consciousness in the last couple of decades. It is only because the masses now have printers and other reproduction machinery in their bedrooms that they have been pressured into becoming educated about the 18th century privilege of copyright – a previously esoteric law known only to the publishing industry.

            The issue isn’t that people still aren’t familiar with the esoteric definition, but that they shouldn’t be, that actually, “known by/available to the public” IS the correct definition.

            Meanwhile, armchair copyright experts berate all and sundry (BBC too) for not swotting up on the ‘new’ copyright lawyers’ definition.

            We should not be so enthusiastic to abandon our public domain to copyright lawyers.

            Keep the original definition. It actually makes sense.

        3. Stephen Booth


          Copyright law has been around for more than a couple of decades. You admit your self that it was around in the 18th century, I myself have books dating from the early 19th century with copyright notices in the front. Copyright law was only regularised around the world in the 20th by the Geneva Convention on copyright and there are still some countries not adherant. but it’s getting there.

          The intent of copyright law is to support the creators of works, to allow them and their dependents to benefit from their work. It originated not from the desire to stop people running off copies at home but to prevent any yahoo with a printing press running of copies of the latest best seller to sell in the streets without making payment to the author.

          Whilst it may be understandable that individuals at home may not understand the details of copyright law and how something enters the public domain. It is entirely reasonable to expect that they should know that copyright exists and at least do a Google search if they are doing anything that think might be related. It is entirely unreasonable to expect that the BBC would not, as an organisation, be aware in great detail of copyright law and how something does and does not enter public domain.


          1. Tim

            Stephen, if I may be a pedant for a moment, you say, “When you start talking about copyright (literally the right to make copies) the context changes.”

            Just to clarify, copyright isn’t about “the right to copy,” it’s about the artist’s right vested “in every copy” made of their work.

            This is important because it means that however many copies of a work are made, the artist has a right of control over each copy. This is so people can’t make illegal copies of authorised copies in order to get around copyright law. I can see you understand the importance of copyright, so I hope this clarification helps you make the point more effectively whenever you’re caught in an argument with a freetard.

            Crosbie uses words like “esoteric” and “monopoly” etc, but there’s nothing esoteric about copyright, and while it may seem like some organisations have a monopoly, modern copyright exists as much to protect the individual creator as the vast aggregators like Getty. If fewer people used Getty and their microstock site iStockphoto, there would be less of a monopoly and individual creators would flourish.

            As for the phrase “public domain”, in relation to copyright law it means a work which is no longer within copyright, not just anything that the public can see. There’s no real discussion to be had there, it’s just how it is. I apologise if that makes it difficult for people to get free stuff they don’t have the talent to produce for themselves.

            1. Stephen Booth


              ‘the right to make copies’ applies both to copies from the original and copies made from copies. If I create a work then only I (or if it’s a work for hire the person for whom I created it) have the right to make copies. If another person does so then they are in breach of law unless they have a license from the copyright holder (myself or the person who hired me to create it in a work for hire scenario) to do so or can make a claim under fair use clauses of the legislation for the area they are in.

              About 10 years ago I was involved in a copyright tussle to get some material that I had written removed from a server in the US where it had been added to a site run by someone in France. I learned a lot about UK, French, US and International copyright law in the process.

              1. Tim

                Stephen, much of the time the semantics about “right to make copies” or “right in every copy” isn’t that important. I just thought it worth clarifying that copyright means right in every copy. The outcome is much the same, it’s just sometimes more helpful to explain it to people in the original meaning (from the Statute of Anne, 1710) because then they tend to remember the creator behind the work and all its copies, not just their desire to copy the work. Subtle, but maybe useful.

  4. John Keogh

    I’m not sure how they could make this error. Maybe their thinking is something like: because a photo is published on this new-fangled digital medium, normal copyright no longer applies?

  5. Rereporter

    “And now we’ll show you some footage from youtube, uploaded by drunkbear123 who may have copied it from LisaxxxLisa who is believed not the original source since the same video is mirrored on several other sites. We counted 455 mirrors in one minute, apart from sites with screenshots. We will now give you the full list of names of people who may have made the footage. Please keep in mind that a nickname can be shared by several people. We are still busy finding out the full names of the users and will give you an update on that later today.”

    Youtube, Twitter, Twitpic and so on are sources. If you sign up and make a picture or video public you agree with terms. BBC is right. It’s even possible that they pay a web service to use ‘your’ picture. Twitpic for instance has explicit terms like that.

    1. Andy Mabbett Post author

      @Rereporter I’d be grateful if you would cite a clause from the Ts&Cs of one of those sites, showing where users place their content “in the public domain”.

      Note that, contrary to the BBC’s misunderstanding, I did not say that they should not use content from Twitter; but that they should give proper attribution.

    2. Adam

      So, you’re saying that the BBC think the photo is important enough to use, but the photographer isn’t important enough to put the effort in to trace?


    3. Karl Hodge

      @rereporter – I’m afraid that you are quite wrong. An online service may grab certain rights from users when they post content – but that does not mean that a user forfeits their own copyright over that content.

      Furthermore, although using YouTube or Twitter may confer certain rights to those services, it does *not* make those rights transferable to a third party, like the BBC, without attribution.

      In fact, most of these services provide users with a mechanism to assert and protect their copyright (though this is not actually necessary. Copyright is inferred at the moment of production).

      Let’s take YouTube as an example. When you post content on the site, you do so under either a YouTube standard license or a creative commons license. Under that license, holders “… retain all of your ownership rights in their Content, but (…) are required to grant limited licence rights to YouTube and other users of the Service.”

      And while YouTube does grab sub-licensing rights (for promotional and business purposes) – that is not what is being claimed by the BBC representative here. Rather, they are claiming that publication of content on a social network is a conference of public domain rights upon content, which it is not.

      Let’s turn to Twitter – where the matter is explicitly stated. Again, the service retains the right to sub-license content, but it categorically states: “You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. (…) what’s yours is yours – you own your Content (and your photos are part of that Content)”.

      Again, this is not an argument about whether a service can sublicense content to the BBC (it’s doubtful that Twitter did here), but that the BBC has failed to correctly attribute the rights-holders of the content.

      Even if that was the case, the original rights-holder retains their copyright under Twitter ToS, and so should expect proper attribution where possible.

      Unfortunately, misunderstandings like yours are common place, and this bad practice is sadly becoming widespread in our profession.

    4. Paul

      As others have already pointed out, image/video sharing services are very specific about rights management. By posting a video or photo online, you give that service, and ONLY that service, permission to display the content on their site. Nothing more. Period.

      The BBC in this case decided that copyright doesn’t apply to online content. To those who think they’re right, just try re-posting one of their news stories in full, or a photo they credit to themselves somewhere where they’ll notice it and see how quickly they figure out how copyright actually works.

      News organizations which solicit viewer content are a whole different matter. Watch
      that fine print closely, you may be agreeing to give them all rights forever merely by uploading to them. It’s in the “contract”.

      As for your example: just because drunkbear123 reposted the content posted by LisaxxxLisa which may itself have been reposted from elsewhere does not mean that the video is no longer copyrighted. It means that drunkbear123 and LisaxxxLisa are in breach of copyright. This happens a lot on YouTube with popular videos and they do have mechanisms in place so that the original poster can have these copies removed. This also happens a lot. Perhaps the original poster ripped it off from somewhere else, in that case it’s down to the real source to request YouTube take it down. Which I expect would happen very rapidly if the content started out on the BBC.

      1. Dave Cousin

        Absolutely on the last point about BBC’s content, they post links on Twitter to news stories which are therefore by their definition in the public domain and free for us to use on our website therefore? If they used my content as far as I’m concerned they would receive an invoice, if my pictures had been reposted somewhere else and perhaps even put up as creative commons by someone else then I suppose the BBC would have to counter sue them but the BBC should know better that content is often infringed online: what they are doing then is no better than receiving stolen goods.

  6. André Luís

    They’re wrong. And they will only learn when someone invoices them for using their photos.

    By default all works are “all rights reserved”. Even online. Unless they are hosted somewhere that indicates “no rights reserved”, they’re not on public domain.

    Sad, really.

  7. Tom Gidden

    @Rereporter, you’re just plain wrong.

    From the terms and conditions of Twitpic ( :

    “All content uploaded to Twitpic is copyright the respective owners. The owners retain full rights to distribute their own work without prior consent from Twitpic. It is not acceptable to copy or save another user’s content from Twitpic and upload to other sites for redistribution and dissemination. “

  8. PatHadley

    This is an extension of a policy they use during making programmes and news coverage.

    They lifted material from books, articles and papers and (crudely) paraphrased it for the voice overs. When contacted by the authors or their agents the Beeb researchers claimed that publication rendered the material ‘in the public domain’. Several are now getting together and considering putting a case together.

  9. Pingback: It’s in the public domain | blog

  10. Andrew Bowden

    As an ex-BBC employee this makes me horrendously embarassed and ashamed of the BBC. There are a lot of great clued up people at the organisation, but it’s comments like this that let them all down.

  11. Tom Gidden

    It seems to me that this is tacit contradiction of Twitter’s T&Cs. As a result, I’m thinking that by rights, maybe Twitter should cut off all official BBC accounts. I mean, the account user is refusing to follow their terms of use.

  12. Mo

    I’ve passed this on to somebody clueful internally.

    Although I don’t speak for my employer, and I’m not involved in this department, I can only apologise for the response you received.

    1. Alex

      Like Mo, not speaking for employer, but it’s not the most helpful reply.

      However, I do work on the team that deals with social media content in news, even if I am on holiday at the moment. As a rule, where possible every reasonable effort is made to contact and gain permission from the copyright holder before using their material. Sometimes it isn’t possible for a variety of reasons.

      In a news context such as Oslo and Tottenham, there is also some provision for use in UK copyright under fair dealing, which includes use for news reporting. Although from memory that doesn’t apply to photos so is moot in this case.

      I’m not at work so can’t dig up relevant guidelines right now, but we do take permission and copyright seriously. Where requested and editorially possible we do credit originators. And if someone decides they don’t want their image used, we make sure that it is marked not for broadcast.

      1. Andy Mabbett Post author


        I appreciate you taking the trouble to reply, especially while on holiday, but I’m having trouble equating your “where requested and editorially possible we do credit originators” with your admission that it “sometimes it isn’t possible for a variety of reasons [to] gain permission from the copyright holder before using their material”.

        If you do not or cannot contact them (to obtain permission) before using their work, then how can they know to request to be credited? Surely your default should be to give credit? And under what circumstances can it be “editorially [im]possible” not to do so?

        1. Alex

          Well in the case of Syrian footage it is virtually impossible to credit anyone by dint of the fact that the material comes via third party aggregators who don’t know the originator (we do leave the uploader’s DOG on usually). And even if we did we wouldn’t want to as naming them puts them at risk.

          Or in the case of Libyan material where it would put the copyright holder in direct risk of reprisal or expose them to further risk.

          Those are extremes but there are plenty of places where people have taken important images and their first concern is personal safety, not being contacted by news organisations to check their credit.

          Also, and this is something I hear from contributors I speak to, there are plenty of people for whom the only credit they want is to know that their photo or video has helped to tell people what is happening.

      2. Martin Belam

        I’ve just blogged about it – if you read the BBC’s own guidelines about user submitted content, you’ll see that this email reply suggests that basically you get more copyright protection by sending your material directly to the BBC than you do if they spot it on a social network. I do think the email is obviously a very poor reply by an inexperienced member of staff, rather than a massive BBC copyright land-grab.

  13. Pingback: BBC: Pictures posted to social media are public domain |

  14. Tom Scott

    So by this logic, the same applies to BBC content since iPlayer is “available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain” worth knowing

  15. Terence Eden

    Firstly, yes, the BBC should attempt to find out the originator of a copyrighted piece of work. At the very least crediting it to the person they nicked it off.
    Secondly, some services – like flickr – allow you to specify which copyright licence you want (fully ©, or Creative Commons, or public domain). Again, that should be respected.
    Sites like Twitpic may sell your content – depending on their TOS – but they would never ask people to attribute them “from Twitter”.

    Twitter’s own broadcast guidelines explicitly say

    Don’t: Delete, obscure, or alter the identification of the user.

    I would say “this is a new medium and it takes some time for all parties to understand how they should deal with it” – but that’s rubbish. The web is 20 years old. has been running since 1997. This kind of mistake is now unacceptable.

  16. Paul Smith

    On the upside, the BBC seem to have also given permission to anyone to cut and paste content from their site and do what the hell they like with it, without permission or attribution. After all…

    “[The BBC’s website] is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain.”

    If those are the only conditions required to ignore all matters of copyright, then away we go!

  17. Albert Jay

    There is no such thing as ‘The BBC’. This reply was was made by a real living person, who may have no legal experience whatsoever. They may have simply asked the person sitting next to them what to say, and then parroted it. You therefore cannot attribute their personal opinion, given in ignorance, to the copyright policy of the entire BBC.

    In order to take any of this seriously, you need to contact the BBC’s legal department, and then speak to a named person that you can quote, and who has an actual understanding of copyright law. There are people who work at the BBC who have this function, and specialist knowledge and they mostly spend their time clearing ‘music rights’.

    If they will not play ball with you, it would be trivial to find a YouTube clip that they have used illegally, contact the YouTube user that shot it and then join with them to make a formal legal threat through a firm of solicitors.

    If you are not willing to do this, all you are actually doing is blog-whining and trolling them, without any real desire or hope of making them formally own up to their double standards.

    1. Andy Mabbett Post author

      Er, there very much “such [a] thing as ‘The BBC’”. The reply may have been made by “no legal experience whatsoever”, but since I didn’t ask for legal advice that’s irrelevant. It was though an official BBC response to a formal complaint, made by the means promoted by the BBC for such purposes.

      If there is a troll here, it’s not me.

      1. Albert Jay

        You don’t understand what I mean. A person working on the complaints desk inside the BBC is not ‘The BBC” she is simply a person sitting at a desk whose job it is to reply to and sort complaints. They are not copyright experts, or experts in anything, and so you cant infer the entire BBC’s copyright policy from what they say to you off the cuff.

        That person should not have given you any answer whatsoever. She should have referred your complaint to the legal department instead of trying to answer you directly. Not that I am defending the BBC, which I loathe, many people on the internets are saying “The BBC doesn’t understand copyright” when its in fact just a single, low level ignoramus.

        It simply is not true that any person who answers an email or a telephone at the BBC is able to give ‘an official BBC response’ to any question, wether it is legal, technical or otherwise. In order for it to be official, the person who wrote it must be named, and preferably, it should be delivered in writing, on BBC stationary. Anonymous replies from a pool of staffers does not count.

        1. Andy Mabbett Post author

          The response was not “off the cuff“; nor was it merely a response to an “an email or […] telephone” query. It was, as I’ve said, “an official BBC response to a formal complaint, made by the means promoted by the BBC for such purposes“.

          The response was not anonymous; I merely decided not to name the person who sent it, to spare their embarrassment.

        2. the wub

          Yes, this reply could well be pinned on an individual’s mistake. But let’s not forget the actions that resulted in this discussion in the first place, the BBC regularly using photos found via Twitter without attribution. That suggests the misunderstanding of copyright goes well beyond one person at the BBC.

        3. Seamus McCauley

          Of course there are people working at the BBC who know better than this. Some of them are friends of mine. That doesn’t alter the fact that an organisation which empowers the dangerously ignorant to speak for it is spoken for by the dangerously ignorant, and organisationally responsible for their pronouncements on its behalf.

        4. Pete

          I *am* a person in the position of this anonymous complaints responder, for a global corporation (not the BBC). And it is very clear to me that when I have contact with customers on a subject that falls within my role, then it is Corporation X speaking, not little old me, and customers are entitled to treat it as such.

          Yes, if some random phones my desk extension and asks about our financial plans, or environmental policies, or some other thing that’s not my job, then if I was incautious enough to discuss it they couldn’t treat what I said as an official pronouncement from the company. But if a customer formally asks me a technical question about the product I work on, and I respond formally through the proper channels (which is what has happened here) then my response is the company’s response and the customer is quite entitled to base hundred of thousands of dollars’ worth of purchase decision on what was said. Not surprisingly, we are rightly very careful about what we say, and do not send out ridiculous responses like this one.

          If “Anonymous replies from a pool of staffers [do] not count”, then what is the point of them?


          1. Mo

            Yes — Andy followed precisely the correct channels in this case and received a response which was intended to relay the corporation’s position (albeit incorrectly).

            Indeed, BBC staff are generally careful to note that they are not speaking on behalf of the corporation when engaged in one-to-one discussions outside of these channels (with the exception of people like Chris who can “put his BBC hat on” as a function of his job).

            In other words, this “if it’s not a named person, it’s not on behalf of the corporation” thing is unmitigated tosh: if anything, the reverse is usually true. If you get something from a named individual, the default position is that they’re speaking on behalf of only themselves; if you get something from a departmental point-of-contact role address/autoresponse, then they can only be speaking on behalf of the corporation because that mode of contact isn’t used for anything else.

            (With no hint of irony, not speaking on behalf of the corporation, though I’m pretty sure they agree with the thrust!)

      2. Gavin Tough

        There is no troll here; Albert appears quite correct. One look at the grammer used in the email, not to mention the capitalisation of your name, should tell you that this has not come from a genuine descision maker at the BBC.

        What you’ve done here is to parade, in a fit of middle-class indignation, a dumb mistake made my some low-paid, none-too-bright underling, desperately clinging to your “it’s an official response” line as justification. Congratulations.

        I just hope that she doesn’t get into too much trouble for this. She may be a bit thick, but she doesn’t deserve this shit.

          1. Gavin Tough

            It’s not as interesting as you think. I picked up the gender from Albert’s post, but did not consider it an important enough detail to go back and check.

            It’s more telling that the best that you can do for a rejoinder is to divert the argument with an accusation of mysogyny. For shame! 😀

      1. Gavin Tough

        You think I’m ignorant of what? Certainly not of how these industrial scale contact services operate. Interesting how any argument can be simplified by judicious use of a full stop, isn’t it?

        1. Philip John

          Ignorant of the fact that an individual responding to a question posed to the organisation responds as a *representative of that organisation*

          Whether it’s a huge corporation or a small chain of retail stores the same applies.

          Interesting how any argument can be simplified by judicious use of a full stop, isn’t it?

          Oh, shut up. You were wrong, deal with it.

  18. Simon

    Oh come on, you are in the noise for the BBC, twitter is not going to do anything to the BBC, if you go to law they will pay come go away money to you but they don’t care about you one jot!

    They don’t misunderstand, they are just telling you to get lost. There is nothing you can really do.

    You are just not important. Get real.

    1. Alan Chun

      Do you work for the BBC?
      To “get real” means to defend any and all copyright infringements and to make them publicly aware.
      We all know that the BBC knows exactly what they have done and that there is no misunderstanding of the laws, but does that mean we should all just turn a blind eye to it?

  19. Simon

    By the way : I assume that it was your copyright they breached?

    If not then what are you doing? By all means contact the owners to let them know, but if they don’t want to take action what is your part in all this?

    1. Alan Chun

      Andy is doing what every photographer and artist should be doing, pointing out the wrong doings of large corporations and bringing it to the attention of the general public.
      We have been shafted way too many times by these corporations just because they think they are large enough to get away with it.
      The need to point out to the BBC how wrong they are and to get them to publicly admit their wrong doings means a lot more than any money gained from any legal proceedings or OOC settlement.
      I ask you this Simon, what is your part in this? What moved you to comment? What will you get out of it?

    2. Martin Belam

      Simon, are you one of those people who doesn’t phone the emergency services if they see their neighbour’s house burning down, because it isn’t your house? I mean, what has it got to do with you if their house burns down?

  20. Dave Harte

    Well done for following this through Andy.

    On the subject of Twitpic in particular, Twitpic’s terms say: “You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to TwitPic [however] you hereby grant TwitPic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content [….] in any media formats and through any media channels.”

    I can see the response you got was inadequate but Twitpic’s terms suggest that the BBC would be within their rights to use Twitpic material. The confusing bit is that UK copyright law says: “only the copyright owner can licence the issuing of a photograph to the public” (from the NUJ website). I wonder if in posting to a US service we give up that right?

    I’m a bit less worried about the attributing of a twitpic to a particular twitter user (which I think was part of your original concern?) – that seems a courtesy more than anything. If there was money that needed to be exchanged then having the pic attributed seems appropriate as the photographer would be entitled to it. By posting to Twitpic it’s clear that you’re giving up your right to make money from the pic.

    The role of agencies is worth looking at here. WENN have a deal with Twitpic (just for celebrities though? I’m still unclear) and I think they played a part in placing Jules Mattsson’ pic (of London riots from March) into national papers (but captioned as Birmingham).

    1. Heidi Blanton

      I’m not completely certain, but I think that services like Twitter or Twitpic, ones that operate in the US, will be subject to US copyright laws. If this this is the case, what the BBC did is still wrong under US copyright law. I don’t believe that somebody operating in another country is exempt from the copyright law of another country… though it is somewhat of unchartered territory with news agencies using these sites for stories and sources.

      Regardless, the BBC’s response here was way off the mark and shows ignorance on many levels.

  21. Wolfcat

    Pity they never read..

    Guidelines for Use of Tweets in Broadcast or Other Offline Media
    Graphic Display of Tweets, Usernames, or Hashtags


    Include the Twitter logo or bird icon in close proximity to the Tweets for the duration that Tweets appear in broadcast.
    Make sure that the Twitter logo or bird icon is a reasonable size in relation to the content.
    Include the username with each Tweet. If you have concerns about user privacy or broadcast standards, please contact us regarding exceptions unless you have a prior agreement with Twitter.
    Use the full text of the Tweet. If privacy concerns or broadcast standards are concerned, please contact us regarding exceptions unless you have a prior agreement with Twitter.


    Delete, obscure, or alter the identification of the user. You may show Tweets in anonymous form in exceptional cases such as concerns over user security. Showing unattributed data in aggregate or visualized form is permitted, but must still include the Twitter logo. Please contact us if you have any questions.
    Edit or revise Tweets except as necessary due to technical or other limitations. E.g. it is acceptable to remove links from Tweets on-air as they are inoperable in a broadcast medium.

    1. AP2

      Twitter’s terms are irrelevant. The image wasn’t on Twitter – they don’t host images (not until now, anyway) – it was only linked from it.

  22. Tony Sleep

    The BBC are just loudly and confidently wrong. They do that a lot where other peoples’ copyright is concerned.

    There was an interesting case last year involving photos lifted from Twitpic.

    (Ultimately the photographer, Daniel Morel, won )

    The BBC won’t accept an invoice for infringement since there was no contract to supply. The BBC have a large legal dept who are very faimilar with wriggles. You will have to threaten to sue for infringement. Unfortunately if you habitually give your work away, there is no point in doing so, since your losses are demonstrably nothing. Similarly suing for lack of attribution is also futile, as you would have to be able to quantify your losses.

  23. the wub

    It’s worrying that so many people have this woefully poor understanding, and that it extends to institutions like the BBC where knowledge of copyright should be vital. That’s not to say there aren’t people there who get it, I know Wikimedia UK have had fruitful discussions with clueful people there in the past. Unfortunately they don’t seem to be running the show.

  24. Jimbo

    So, BBC is a service which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. So instead of writing my own news website I can just take their stuff and say it’s from BBC and be ok?

  25. polnoon

    I do know however that if it was music being posted the BBC would not use it without clearance. Such clearance may be covered in a blanket licence they already pay for depending on how the music is used.

  26. Andy Mabbett Post author

    I’ve now sent a follow-up complaint to the BBC:

    Wow. That’s a really dreadful response, in every way.

    I really can’t believe that it reflects the understanding of copyright law held by any legally qualified person at or advising the BBC, or of any professional journalist or news producer.

    Or are you saying any link I see on Twitter, to an item on iPlayer or the BBC website, means that the linked content is “not subject to the same [sic] copyright laws”.

    Please arrange for your response to be reviewed by a manager and a correction sent to me, asap.

    Furthermore, I never said “the BBC shouldn’t be using pictures from Twitter”; please provide me with the exact wording used, about my comment in your audience log; and if necessary have it amended to reflect my actual comments.

    1. Philip John

      Heads up: your link to this comment doesn’t work from archive pages (including the home page) – it only works from the single post page.

  27. Jago

    I’m a children’s book illustrator and a couple of years ago noticed some of my illustrations appearing in a trailer for a new series of Jackanory. The BBC had filmed an episode of my book being read by Art Malik and animated my illustrations for part of the show – all without contact either me, or the publisher or the author. After a lot of wrangling (and the high profile author’s agents involvement) I was finally paid the BBC’s “agreed rate” for use of my work, about £113 that I had obviously not agreed to. Then a year later I managed to get £50o compensation….. They obviously have a good understanding of copyright laws….

  28. Mike Rawlins

    Just a point on this, everyone is citing Twitpic, there are dozens of image hosting platforms where you can host, erm images, and then use the medium of Twitter to tell people about them. I advise everyone to look at the T&Cs of any ‘on the hoof’ image sharing service they use to make sure they are happy with them.

    Personally, for a short time (until it became too much faff) I hosted all my pictures on my own domain under copyright and just used Twitter to publicise them, if the BBC, or anyone else had used them saying they were from ‘Twitter’ and that they were fine to use them, they would have been incorrect.

  29. Chris Hamilton - BBC News Social Media Editor

    We’re checking out the complaint response quoted above but, on the face of it, it’s wrong and isn’t the position of BBC News.

    In fact, 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.

    We want to do right by potential contributors and our audience – it’s not in our interests to annoy them – and this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of that.

    1. Albert Jay

      And there you have it; the reality of this is exactly as I explained in my comment. One complaints fielder is NOT the BBC, and their personal opinion cannot be extrapolated to the entire organization.

      We now have the words of a named person from the BBC, who has escalated this complaint to the proper people, and it is being dealt with properly.

      Its not Mr. Hamilton’s place to address anything other than than the complaint; what he is doing is the correct procedure; making an internal inquiry, seeing what the exact facts are, and then getting back to you with the precise position. He is being polite and going beyond what is required of him in commenting here that your concerns are being taken very seriously, and they will be addressed in short order.

      Complaining that he did not “address the issue of attribution” right here and now is not at all reasonable; they are taking your complaint seriously now, and will respond to you in full. You cannot ask for anything else when people are acting reasonably.

      The real world does not work at the speed of the Blogosphere!

      1. Smithereens

        Oh, shut up. You were wrong.

        I’m sure that in the silence of the night, when all there is to keep you company are pages from Ceefax and the hooting of looters, you quietly acknowledge to yourself that you are quite, quite used to this.

    2. Tom Morris

      With all due respect, it’s not about contacting people. It’s about crediting people. If I post a photo on my Twitter account, it’s a photo I’ve taken, the source is me – check my name on the damn profile. If you are going to use a photo without permission, the least you can do is credit the actual photographers, whether they have names like ‘Bob Smith’ or whether they have names like ‘zard0z43z’, rather than accredit them to Twitter or Twitpic. 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.

      As to why people like Andy have a right to give a shit about things like this: in the free culture, open source community etc., every time we try and suggest that the BBC or the government or public services or whatever should embrace these ideas, and suggest how they can do so, we get shut down with a load of flannel about the “rightsholders” and a load of righteous preaching about IP law. We can’t share old copies of Horizon from 1973 on BitTorrent because of the rightsholders. Artwork can’t be made CC and thus reused on Wikipedia because of the rightsholders. We have to have DRM and Digital Economy Act because of the flaming rightsholders. But suddenly the constant bending over to satisfy the rightsholders doesn’t apply when those rightsholders are people snapping pics on their smartphones and posting them on Twitter. They are rightsholders too, but the media organisation treat them as “user-generated content” or even “public domain” material because… that’s more convenient for them.

    3. David Stripinis

      “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.”

      And what if the photographer doesn’t give you permission? You can’t ‘unuse’ it. I’ve had photographs used without permission, submitted invoices to the offenders and had courts order the offenders to pay.

      I’m a US citizen, the image hosting service I use is based in the US, and I am therefore protected by US copyright law. Regardless of how major a news event is there is no public interest, short of possibly a photograph of a criminal suspect still on the loose, in publishing content – be it photo, video, audio or text account – that does not belong to you.

      1. James Cridland

        “Regardless of how major a news event is there is no public interest, short of possibly a photograph of a criminal suspect still on the loose, in publishing content – be it photo, video, audio or text account – that does not belong to you.”

        Hmm. A good example from the United States itself is the famous Twitpic photograph from @jkrums of US1549 ditching in the Hudson. As a photograph, it was extraordinarily important, since it showed that the plane was in good condition, and that apparently nobody had been killed. It was retweeted and reposted rapidly. News services carried it as soon as they could, rather than holding off carrying it until they could discover the initial photographer, get in contact (how many Twitter users have a searchable telephone number?), and agree terms.

        Krums licensed the photo to AP and various other organisations. He didn’t sell a blanket license to AP (they wanted one), so he lost out on potential revenue from other organisations who didn’t pay him money, and who he didn’t have the time to chase. However, he did earn from this photograph – of course, as you’d expect. has more – from him – on the photograph’s rights.

        You appear to be saying that there is no public interest in this photograph, and that news organisations should wait – potentially many hours – until they have agreed terms with photographers. The world doesn’t work like that. And in this case, where a picture tells a thousand stories, I’m glad it doesn’t.

  30. Rod McKie

    @Reporter, you are utterly wrong. If the BBC grabbed any of my illustrations from Twitter, or Twitpic, which has no right to my rights, and used them, they would be invoiced by me and if they failed to pay I would take a small claim against them and I would win. Moreover, I have illustrations online that are copyright Playboy, The Harvard Business Review, National Lampoon, etc, and in your ridiculous analysis the BBC would magically assume publishing rights because they found them on a “social network”? Talk sense.

    Several newspapers have tried this dodge, where they claim everything online is public domain, except their own copyrighted pages of course, and every time they have been caught they have paid up. The BBC should sut up and pay up too.

    1. Tom Gidden

      While the section of those guidelines about copyright passes the buck to the lawyers, there is a slightly worrying section above it:

      A picture available without meaningful restrictions on a website may be considered to be in the public domain and the media may consider that it has the right to exploit it – but that does not always make it the right thing to do.

      Thing is, they’re talking there about whether it’s ethically right to show an image in context, rather than questioning if the public domain assumption is, in fact, correct. The problem is a widespread but mistaken belief that when a user posts a work to the internet they are apparently waiving copyright and making it public domain.

  31. Shireen Smith

    When I read the BBC’s first response it immediately brought to mind the Cook’s source saga which we blogged about. Cook’s Source, an online magazine used someone’s work, did not give credit, and when she complained, they retorted that the work was in the public domain. What’s more they felt the original piece was poorly written and mentioned how they had considerably improved it. The public were outraged, and the magazine was forced to close down. The BBC had better be more careful in future, to impose strict rules on who is authorised to respond to complaints touching copyright or other areas of law.

  32. Pingback: Recommended Links for August 13th | Alex Gamela - Digital Media & Journalism

      1. Heidi Blanton

        Hi Andy, I wrote a blog post on this very thing 🙂 Mobypicutre would be my recommendation. But I did note that Yfrog did a swift update to their TOS after the whole TwitPic issue, which was far worse than TwitPic’s to start. TwitPic also made their TOS more clear, but my concern with them now is that they do allow third party sharing by themselves and recently signed a contract with a media agency so it would not be out of the realm for them to legally share your photos via that agency.

  33. Saltburnlass

    I work for The Open University. We have an entire department dedicated to ascertaining copyright and obtaining permission to re-use from all sources whose work we use. I am shocked that the BBC don’t do something similar, though I appreciate that especially with news they are working to tight deadlines. It can be quite a troublesome process sometimes, but that’s no excuse for not even trying.

  34. Rob

    Unbelievable. Lots of things are in the public domain – but that doesn’t mean no-one holds the copyright. Imagine just nicking something off the telly. BBC might have something to say…

  35. Ian

    I was contacted by BBC NorthWest to ask permission to use a clip from a YouTube video I had uploaded. I agreed and they correctly credited me when they used it.

  36. Kevin

    As they appear to have broken the law I suggest that the BBC are now evicted from any buildings they occupy.

      1. Paul Taylor

        They should immediately have all “government” hand outs withdrawn! And forced to remove their masks in public areas. Or something.

        Bring back hanging!

  37. anna

    when you make these complaints via telephone, letter and email you’re not ‘talking’ to the BBC. You’re talking to the organisation engaged to handle the correspondence, Capita. This does not excuse why the BBC use the footage/ don’t give credit in the first place, but you’re not getting an answer other than the standard line from someone who isn’t making the decisions

  38. Will

    There’s a bit of a problem with italics in the comments here, I think due to a tag being left open, I’ll try and close it unless someone already has by the time this goes up? Although I do quite like the italics, so, if this doesn’t work, that’s fine too.

    There’s a lot of things going on here and, it’s weird inside a corporation to know whether to limit blame with individuals or put everything straight to the top, but, I guess the way for long term change is to change the system, not the individuals…

    I’ll be honest, I don’t know anywhere near enough about this, and I am fairly tired, but I hope there’s some kind of resolution to this. Something’s very definitely not on.

  39. Jonas

    When you store pictures with services such as Facebook, Twitpic, and most other services that do not charge you, you pay by giving them the right to sell your pictures. I don’t know how valid those clauses are with your local laws, but if you want to keep copyrights and minimize trouble you’d better use paid services, where you are the customer and not what’s being sold.

    1. Kerri

      “When you store pictures with services such as Facebook, Twitpic, and most other services that do not charge you, you pay by giving them the right to sell your pictures.”

      That’s simply not true. You give them the right to “distribute” your pictures, on their service, and do various other things outlined in their user agreements. But they do not hold your copyright — you do. And you have the right to compensation when someone uses your work, or to prohibit them from using your work, in keeping with any legal redistribution methods.

      You “pay” by allowing them to put advertising next to your work.

      1. Jon

        “That’s simply not true. You give them the right to “distribute” your pictures, on their service, and do various other things outlined in their user agreements. But they do not hold your copyright — you do. And you have the right to compensation when someone uses your work, or to prohibit them from using your work, in keeping with any legal redistribution methods.”

        Partly correct Kerri,

        Yes, we retain copyright BUT by using services such as Twitpic we are granting them:

        “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content”

        i.e. we give them permission to sub-licence (sell) our work to others. We have NO right to compensation or the ability to invoice for a reproduction fee because we’ve granted the image host a broad brush “royalty free” licence to sublicence our content.

        That’s the whole problem with Twitpic, Twitter’s new image service, Lockerz and any such other service that has these broad-brush “do anything with your content” terms in their user Terms of Service.



        1. A

          Are social media websites also really verifying that the person uploading the photos is the copyright holder? I’m thinking of a social media network like Facebook where youngsters upload, for example, profile photos for use on Facebook network taken by others all the time – they may tick the box claiming that copyright is theirs but no right-thinking person would ever think *all* the photos of these kids were actually taken by the subject in the photo and/or they all own the copyright of the photos or have got permission. So whatever the terms and conditions, I’m not sure in such a case whether such a “contract” would have any standing. From one aspect it would make the social media firm look disingenous if not downright devious in taking advantage from those not genned up on copyright and commercial issues and from another aspect it would make it look downright incompetent and ridiculous if it really claims to take seriously ticking such an internet box as sole proof of ownership, especially in the digital age. Separate from this, there is no reason why a creator should not be credited even if the photo is distributed through an agency or s/he is an employee. Anyway if ‘users’ are actually also ‘suppliers’ and if Twitpic is acting as a photo agency, shouldn’t it make it clear – “free for you to share media on Twitter in real time and free for us to sell it on …”? It’s also about time copyright was taught in schools – it’s so important now so many individuals from a tender age are able to access platforms to publish or broadcast their creations. It’s tough times for freelance creative professionals but all creators as a human right and part of citizenship should be aware of the value of their own and other people’s creations and maybe the BBC (seriously) should lead the way within its schools’ programmes.

  40. Tom Morris

    As a Wikimedian (and a Commonist!), I do find this very amusing: we work exceptionally hard being paranoid about copyright and tend to operate on the basis of “if in doubt, delete”, yet a major national broadcaster is unable to understand copyright as well as a bunch of people on the Internet can.

  41. Angie Mohr

    For those, including the original poster, who are claiming that the issue here is that the pictures are not attributed, you also have a fundamental misunderstanding of copyright law. Attribution is never a valid substitute for permission. When you own the copyright to a piece of work (including photographs), others must seek and receive explicit permission to use, reprint, distribute, or make derivative works from the work in question. They can’t just take it and attribute it to the photographer or author. They must have permission first.

      1. Angie Mohr

        Here: “In future, please give proper credit to photographers.”

        The issue isn’t that attribution wasn’t appropriate, it was that permission was not sought or received.

        1. Andy Mabbett Post author

          The words you quote do not say or mean what I challenged you to demonstrate.

          I (and you, unless you can demonstrate otherwise) have no evidence of whether or not permission was sought or received in the cases to which I referred, and worded my comment deliberately to take account of that.

          If I make a complaint to the BBC, or any organisation, I think it is for me, not you, to decide which issue or issues I’m complaining about.

  42. Mark Cotton

    I tweeted about this earlier today, but have only now had a chance to fully read all the comments. I think, as a musician myself, think that Andy defending other artists work can only be seen as a good thing, coming from the right place. The best thing about the social media, blogging and the web in general is that it gives all “creatives” a chance to help themselves but much more importantly each other. In these days we only get by, by helping each other, so thank you.

    But in the same breath I have to defend the BBC about the riots. I have been working a little with Jamillah Knowles, from BBC Outriders podcast, on the Global Voices podcast reciently so follow her on twitter. For at least two nights last week she was sending out tweets constantly to people asking them to contact her about using their tweetpics on the BBC website & for permission. I wouldn’t be suprised if they got into 3 figures by the end. I think if some news rooms were not doing it i can only put it down to the fast moving situation of the first few days of last week. It wasn’t like a normal “breaking news” story that generally will be based in one physical location, it was spead across so many places that confusion must have popped it’s head up many times. Because of that i think we may have to give & take a little if we accept that we want 24 hour rolling news spread across many platforms.

    I hope i’ve not offended anyone, but just wanted to make a point.


  43. Bobbyleeds

    Technical infringement or not, using images from other media is in the public interest. Copyright owners can claim money for anything which is used and assert moral rights as to it’s creation.

    The whole system is flawed, hence the Hargreaves report published in the last few weeks, which recommended reform yet recognised the public interest in copying in certain circumstances.

    1. Michael Smethurst

      There’s definitely an argument that public interest (slippery concept tho that might be) should always trump copyright. Though the same logic would apply equally to the resulting programme. Geese and ganders…

  44. David Banks

    Good post – have been banging on about this for a long time.

    There has been a perception, perhaps since the internet entered newsrooms, that it was a source of free stuff.

    And, because they have managed to get stuff and not get caught, that mistaken perception has gathered a sheen of legal respectability – where we see reporters blithely claiming that something on show in public is therefore ‘public domain’.

    Perhaps in years gone by theire predecessors wandered into a gallery displaying Picasso’s latest work and assumed that, because he had placed it there in public, he was inviting them to got their box brownie out, copy it and use it how they will.

    Nothing in Facebook, Twitter, or any other social network T&Cs I have seen goes anywhere near putting material in the public domain or creating a creative commons licence. They are usually quite explicit – you retain copyright in your material, but you license them (the network) to use it – you do not license Uncle Tom Cobbly and all to rip it off.

    BBC take note.

  45. Tom Scott

    I suspect that this boils down to lazy journalism – it’s similar to the practice of linking to a journal’s home page not the paper. “Twitter” or “YouTube” is seen as reasonable attribution, its not but because there’s no contract it’s seen as ok.

    The BBC does understand copyright, and does have a team of people to manage it. But it seems to me that organisationally “UGC” is treated differently from other copyrighted material. Their T&Cs are an indication of this.

  46. David Allen Green

    Well done Andy on exposing this wrongness. It is a serious issue, and Gavin’s fuss about the person who sent the original email is misplaced; unless a noise is made about copyright misuse by corprations then such misuse is likely to continue. It is not good enough to adopt Gavin’s quietist and silly approach of “shhh, someone may get in trouble”.

    There are issues of use and attributation. As Andy says they are distinct matters under copyright law (indeed, ‘moral rights’ strictly speaking are in addition to copyright law).

    The BBC should operate appropriately in respect of both as a norm; and those purporting to answer on behalf of BBC should simply get such things right. The initial BBC response here was significantly incorrect and misleading, and Andy’s exposure of it should be commended.

    1. Gavin Tough

      You misunderstand. I actually quite agree that corporations should be held to account when they abuse copyright. What I had a problem with is the misrepresentation of an obvious mistake by someone right at the bottom rung of the organisation, possibly even working for an outsourced contact centre, as being genuinely representitive of the BBC’s true position on the matter. It just smacks of cheap points-scoring.

      “those purporting to answer on behalf of BBC should simply get such things right.”

      You’re absolutely right about this. No mistakes should ever be made, by anyone. But they do. Get over it.

      “The initial BBC response here was significantly incorrect and misleading, and Andy’s exposure of it should be commended.”

      Andy has exposed nothing more than the slight ineptitude (I’m sure that this person is perfectly qualified for sending out replies to the vast numbers of more mundane queries that they receive) of someone working at a contact centre for the BBC. Big deal. What a hero. Hurrah.

      1. Philip John

        No, Gavin, what several commenters have shown by linking to similar cases is that this is a common problem with media re-use of photos publish via social media.

        Its something I’ve experienced myself and have to keep a close eye on. Andy is right to take such a position and the BBC’s response in the comments is a recognition of that fact.

        1. Gavin Tough

          What? Poor responses from front line staff is a common problem with media re-use of photos publish via social media?

          If that’s the case, then I’m not surprised, as it’s a pretty esoteric question, that they are not qualified to answer, and absolutely should have gone past their legal team.

          Please do not misunderstand. I have be been following this issue, am aware of the other cases to which you refer, and agree with your stance on copyright. I just think that this particular email should not be taken as genuinely representative of actual policy, no matter how justified or vindicated it makes you feel.

  47. Pingback: When large media organizations ask me to rescind a tweet

  48. Enlightenment

    Upload your photos to FLICKR and set the copyright method that you desire for each photo, then twit a link to it.

    If you want to be more paranoid, then stamp some large text across the photo, and tell them to contact you to purchase a photo without text.

      1. Ian

        I’m not too sure it would resolve the problem (putting them on Flickr), but at least it clearly states that the image is under copyright – something that isn’t clear on Twitpic.

        That said, the BBC should know that it does not matter whether an image is digital or physical, if it has been created by someone then it is subject to copyright. Kudos to you for trying to put them straight.

  49. Sean876

    Hey, real simple!

    1. Tim

      This would be ideal except that photographers such as myself rely on posting images in our websites so people can find us and judge whether or not we’re up to the required task.

      I watermark mine, and use other security measures, but if some freetard is determined enough they can steal a useable image from my site.

      I no longer post images to Twitter, and generally limit my image postings to my website or blog. That way, there’s less doubt who is in control of the usage rights of the images.

  50. James Cridland


    Your email response is from a man working in a small, dusty office in Belfast for a company called Capita. It does not reflect “BBC policy”, and has nothing to do with senior management’s views. This is why it is from a read-only mail account (since Capita are unable to enter into correspondence). The duty log is barely read by BBC content producers: I worked there for two years and never, once, saw it.

    As other posters have stated, it is also a response that is wrong. It is against the BBC’s own guidelines and it shouldn’t have been sent to you.

    When you complain to the BBC, you’re actually costing the licence-fee payer £12 (from memory) for each complaint, and the money goes straight to Capita, a private company.

    If you believe that the BBC should spend three hours checking ownership of photographs and seeking permission before covering them in a live news environment, you should, respectfully, understand how live news reporting works: and why many photographers place their photographs online in the first place.

    Finally, if you’re not actually complaining about a photograph that *you* took, with respect once more, you are completely irrelevant: since your copyright has not been broken. This is possibly why your email was responded to by an office boy who’s more used to answering complaints about the portrayal of gay people on EastEnders. But, y’know, thanks for putting £24 into Capita’s pocket.

    (who worked for the BBC for two years in an unrelated field and doesn’t, thank god, work there any more, and certainly is not speaking for them now)

    1. Philip John

      It doesn’t matter who sent it, where from, how much it costs who or why. The BBC are re-using pictures and video in a way that doesn’t properly acknowledge the copyright owner, pure and simple. Andy is right to take issue of and by doing so he is attempting to force the BBC to respects the rights of all content producers using services like Twitpic and YouTube.

      In fact, if you’re suggesting we should complain to the BBC because it costs them £12 a time we should be complaining that they’re paying £12 for someone to answer an e-mail!

      1. James Cridland

        Philip: No, I would question whether Andy’s right to take this issue up. He appears not to have had any copyright material was used without his consent: and, as it is, he’s an unconnected party.

        Since it’s clear that the response – which is wrong – is not the real BBC position which is published online, this argument is now not about the BBC’s policy but about whether this response was a correct one. It is not a correct one. The title of this blog is incorrect, since this is not a fundemental misunderstanding of copyright from the BBC, just an incorrect response from a complaints handler.

        But let’s look at the facts.

        “Pictures from Twitter” is not a misleading or incorrect caption: that’s where the pictures were found and used by the BBC, during a period of intense news reporting, presumably while they were rushing cameras to the scene themselves. True, it would have been more correct to have stated the picture provider, though it would confuse the story: most people understand Twitter is a service available on mobile phones; Yfrog, however, has less penetration or brand understanding.

        Thinking on, if the BBC quotes “pictures via @jamescridland from YFrog”, then that would be more of an issue, not less: since I would not have given permission for them to use my name (it would worry my family if I was out there taking photos in a riot zone); it would advertise to looters that my amazing Mayfair penthouse flat is unoccupied and the B&O matching hifi/tv combo is lying unguarded; and to my wife that I had not, as I had claimed, popped out for a quick drink with my mates but had instead hotfoot it up to Tottenham High Road.

        The above is just part of the reason why the BBC’s policy isn’t as cut and dry as “you must gain permission and credit photographers”.

        Perhaps Andy might like to explain what he wants the BBC to do in these cases. Just credit a photographer? That is, by itself, a “fundemental misunderstanding of copyright”, and shows his blog posting is naive in the extreme.

        And for those people comparing BBC iPlayer to misuse of a photograph, you labour under the misapprehension that the BBC owns blanket copyright of everything it shows on its channels. It doesn’t.

        1. ScaredyCat

          “The above is just part of the reason why the BBC’s policy isn’t as cut and dry as ‘you must gain permission and credit photographers’.”

          If it’s not the BBC’s policy then it damn well should be. Using the images without consent is copyright infringement.

          “Perhaps Andy might like to explain what he wants the BBC to do in these cases. ”

          It’s pretty obvious, contact the photographer and ask permission to use the image(s) and under what conditions they can use them. Not rocket science. If you can’t contant the photographer, you don’t use the image – end of story.

          “And for those people comparing BBC iPlayer to misuse of a photograph, you labour under the misapprehension that the BBC owns blanket copyright of everything it shows on its channels. It doesn’t.”

          And yet it feels it has the right to infringe copyright on material from twitter / twitpic – content it has no rights over.

          Your base argument that Andy shouldn’t complain as his copyright wasn’t infringed is plain stupid. I could retort that *you* shouldn’t come on here and complain about that because in essence it has nothing to do with you. I wont though, because that whole argument is irrelevant and pointless.

        2. David

          I think Andy’s right to take issue with it would come from being a BBC licence fee payer. The BBC, rightly, encourages people to get in touch and interact, so if someone feels something is being done in an incorrect manner, then surely he has the right to complain about it. We can only hope your response isn’t a reflection of the attitude current BBC employees have for people who complain.

          Other parts of your comments are quite illuminating though. If the BBC employs a firm (and in my experience, Capita’s offices are anything but dusty) to deal with interaction with public on complaints, then surely it is perfectly reasonable for someone to expect that a) the complaint will be investigated properly, b) the answer which comes back is on behalf of the BBC and c) it will reflect the position of the BBC, including senior management. After all, what is the BBC paying £12 a complaint for otherwise?

          As it is, it would appear the response was incorrect and doesn’t reflect the BBC’s social media policy at all. But without Andy having posted this blog in the first place, how would he have known that? It would appear both sides – the BBC and the complainant – have been let down by the complaints process here, but only one side is in a position to do anything about it.

    2. Mo

      Members of the public shouldn’t be expected to know the finer detail of the BBC’s outsourcing arrangements, and it shouldn’t have any bearing on the accuracy of responses given — and it certainly doesn’t excuse them being wrong. Given that the this constitutes an editorial complaint, and given that there’s been some recent effort (led by the Trust) to consolidate points-of-contact to make the complaints process easier and more accessible, there’s no reason why an ordinary member of the public ought to have any impression that a complaint submitted this way would be dealt with by anybody except the appropriate people within the relevant department.

      If anything, this aspect of things is more indicative of something being awry — because it may indicate that the issues exposed by the response to this complaint run deeper than it just being a correspondent who was a bit sloppy at the end of the week.

      The fact that each complaint answered means £12 is funnelled from the licence-fee payer into Capita’s bank account is all the more reason to get it right, not a good reason for it to be wrong.

        1. Andy Mabbett Post author


          I see you have a blog. Please kindly use that, and not this one, to promote your esoteric opinions on copyright issues and apparent desire to change the status quo. I trust everyone with an interest in hearing them will join you there.

          1. Crosbie Fitch

            I’m not changing the status quo.

            I’m helping to explain why copyright is coming to an end.

            Is my explanation something you’d prefer your readers not see?

              1. Steve

                Being spammed by Crosbie Fitch is an inevitable experience for anyone moderating a copyright discussion and is sadly something we have all learned to ignore. Crosbie has even been thrown off the ORG mailing list – quite an achievement.

          2. Crosbie Fitch

            Andy, are you saying that I have spammed this blog?

            This article is about the BBC’s alleged fundamental misunderstanding of copyright, and my apposite explanations are classed as spam?

            Are you sure you welcome comments?

        2. James Cridland

          This isn’t the place for “copyright is dead” discussions, Crosbie. Similarly, not the place for arguing with the site owner whether it is or not. (He’s the site owner. You’re not!)

    3. James Cridland

      Apologies for not giving sources for the above: as the author of I ought to have done. (That said, more than a few links in a comment means they fall into spam, so I have to follow this up with a tweet to you.)

      The BBC’s audience complaints are handled by Capita under a contract that expires in March 2019 according to the BBC Press Office release. The mention of “EU-regulated” relates to the total cost which is clearly above the £150,000 stipulated in the EU Public Procurement Regulations.

      The cost per complaint was an unattributed figure I’d heard while I was working there. For comparison, Visit London has a cost-per-complaint of £200 (page 179).

      While Capita do have a large number of staff in Belfast, not all BBC enquiries would be handled there. The point about them being removed from content provision still holds. The point about the response being both wrong and not BBC policy also holds. As does the point about “what on earth does it have to do with you”…

      Finally, my comment “thank god” was an unguarded moment: I must have enjoyed some of my time at the BBC! I certainly don’t wish my former colleagues any ill, as they probably realise.

  51. Alex Coley

    @James Cridland: It seems that your description of live news reporting justifies breach of copyright. Your only supporting statement is “why many photographers place their photographs online in the first place.” The motivation is irrelevant and even if it is the “many” still irrelevant. And furthermore with regard to Twitter what effort is made to distinguish between ‘photographers’ in the professional, commercial sense and just someone with a camera?

    As for whether an individual is “right” to take this issue up, how could you possibly say it is wrong to take up an issue. People aren’t required to be directly affected in a specific example in order that they complain about a clear problem.

    The caption “Pictures from Twitter” is as inappropriate as a caption that reads “Videos from YouTube.” Try justifying copyright infringement with that.

    As for the whole circus around Capita’s involvement I agree with Mo, it’s irrelevant to the man on the street what arrangements the BBC makes, that’s their business. The issue stands regardless.

    All in all James, you come over as just really arrogant. Why do we need to know about your bitterness to the BBC, or your Mayfair penthouse. And as for “But y’know, thanks for putting £24 in Capita’s pocket” do you not realise what a tool you sound like?

    1. James Cridland

      Hi, Alex.

      What would you rather the BBC does? Andy reckons it should credit photographers apparently; yet that opens more questions than it answers, and is unrelated to copyright infringement (which this blog is apparently about). Indeed, this blog isn’t even about BBC policy, since it’s clear what BBC policy is: it’s published online. The response given was not a correct one. I’ve given reasons why that is, not excused it.

      For the avoidance of doubt: I don’t live in Mayfair. I don’t have a B&O matching tv and hifi combo. And when people descend into personal abuse, they’ve lost the argument.

      1. Ewan

        “Andy reckons it should credit photographers apparently”

        I rather think he’s suggesting that the BBC should not infringe people’s copyright. You keep saying that the response to the complaint is ‘wrong’, but it seems to be entirely in line with the BBC’s actual practice – to take copyrighted material and reuse and republish it without permission.

        Again – if it’s OK for the BBC to copy my copyrighted material without permission because it is convenient, why is it not OK for me to copy their copyrighted material without permission when I find it convenient?

        1. James Cridland

          “I rather think he’s suggesting that the BBC should not infringe people’s copyright” – not as far as I can see. The quote at the top of this email, in his complaint, requests that the BBC should “please give proper credit to photographers”. As I’m sure you’ll be aware, if I credit Lady Gaga for the singing on her latest masterpiece, it is still not acceptable for me to post said epic on my own website for everyone to download. Since Andy’s copyright has not been infringed, it’s difficult to understand why he’s complaining.

          Andy’s criticising the response (rightly) but not actually coming up with what the BBC ought to do. It’s unclear whether he has read the BBC’s actual policy and unclear whether he agrees with it if he has. It’s clearly not feasible or in anyone’s interest to have a policy which is based on “don’t post any photographs on major breaking news stories until you have diligently discovered the original photographer, contacted them, discussed copyright use with them and reached agreement for further use”. Crediting photographers doesn’t achieve anything, and (as I post elsewhere here) is fraught with danger.

          As to your last comment: the BBC doesn’t own full copyright for almost every programme it broadcasts. What you’re suggesting shows naivety around how copyright works. It’s also not a sensible comparison, since it ignores the special public interest requirements that surround reporting of rapidly breaking news stories.

          1. Tom Morris

            “Diligently discovered the photographer”? What?

            If I see a photo on, all I have to do is say “Photo: James Cridland” rather than “Photo: Twitter”. How onerous a task! A busy newsroom could never be expected to do that!

            1. James Cridland

              Sarcasm doesn’t really help your case, Tom, if you don’t mind me saying so.

              Two problems with your post, excepting the above:

              1. Crediting a photographer has nothing to do with copyright. Crediting someone does not mean I can steal their work and do whatever I like with it. The whole point of this post (“a fundemental misunderstanding of copyright”) is not fixed by saying who you’re stealing from.

              2. It isn’t as easy as you think to discover the original poster of a photograph. I might take a photo someone else has posted on Google+, say, and tweet it. During the riots on Monday, there were many instances of reposting photographs: I was monitoring Twitter at the time and sifting right from rumour. It compounds the error if you credit the wrong person. “Photo from Twitter” is correct. “Photo from James Cridland” is wrong if I have actually reused Tom Morris’s photograph without permission: and you would, rightly, be more upset if that caption was used.

          2. Michael Smethurst


            1. Completely agree with your point that attribution is just politeness and nothing to do with copyright infringement. But I don’t think that was Andy’s point. Attribution felt more like an “and also” from my reading anyway…

            2. Not sure why you have to be the offended party before you can offer an opinion. That requirement would invalidate most journalism

            3. The point about the BBC not owning full copyright on programmes seems to back up Andy’s point rather than diminish it. Someone owns rights on a programme; a broadcaster distributes it free to air. That does not put the programme in the public domain. Someone owns a rights on a photograph; twitter or twitpic or yfrog distributes it. That does not put the photo in the public domain.

  52. Andrew Bowden

    BBC One’s continuity announcer is actually employed by Red Bee Media. However no one needs to know or care about this fact. The announcer is acting on behalf of the BBC and announcing their programmes.

    So it is with Capita. They are providing a service to the BBC – for all intents and purposes they are operating as the BBC in respect to one area.

    No one need ever know nor care about a company’s outsourcing arrangements. Capita’s staff (and there are some very good people at Capita in the audiences team) are representing the BBC even if they’re not employed by them, just as the BBC One announcer is.

      1. Andrew Bowden

        One of the (many) things that was part of my role was to send off briefing documents to the audiences team so that if they got asked questions that we knew were likely to be asked, they had good, reliable answers to give back to people – which also meant that the audiences team had an idea who could help them if they had a difficult question that needed answering.

        I don’t know how many other departments did likewise, but I always got the impression we were a bit of a rarity in that respect. I never liked writing those documents – it was rather dull – but it meant that in my area at least, the distance was reduced.

  53. Tom Scott

    Looking at the BBC’s published editorial guidelines (, the same guidelines mentioned above, there appear to be two relevant sections, quoted below in full:

    Impact of Re-use

    A picture available without meaningful restrictions on a website may be considered to be in the public domain and the media may consider that it has the right to exploit it – but that does not always make it the right thing to do. We have a responsibility to consider the impact our re-use to a much wider audience may have on those in the picture, their family or friends – particularly when they are grieving or distressed. For example, it may be inappropriate to use a picture from a social networking site of a particularly happy event (such as a wedding) or a favourite family picture if it is to be associated with reporting of a tragic event. Neutral pictures may be more acceptable to friends and relatives.


    Legal Issues

    The re-use of material from the internet can raise legal issues of privacy and copyright. A strong public interest reason for using a photograph can help justify re-use without permission, but you should not automatically assume that pictures or video you are seeking to include can be used under ‘fair dealing’. Advice is available from BBC Lawyers.

    Based on this I don’t think it’s unreasonable to conclude that (a) the title of this blog is accurate and that (b) the reply from Capita (written on behalf of the BBC) is a fair representation of BBC policy. 

    Yes the final para does mention that there might be legal (or privacy) issues but the general tone of this section implies social media is a great source of free, easily accessible content. And again the section on reuse states: “A picture available […] on a website may be considered to be in the public domain and the media may consider that it has the right to exploit it”.

    How is this inconsistent with what the Capita employee wrote? And in what way is this consistent with copyright law? And remember these are BBC editorial guidelines, not BBC news editorial guidelines. 

  54. Lloyd England

    One of my photos was used on the BBC website a few weeks ago, however it was credited wrong (to an organisation where they had found it, as opposed to me).

    I sent a quick tweet to the journalist who wrote the article, and after a couple of exchanges – all within about 20minutes, they had changed the credit of the photo to my name.

    I had no hard feelings about the original mistake, and if anything, was impressed by the speed, professionalism and kindness I received.

  55. Matthew Somerville

    The copyright exemption in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 for news reporting expressly excludes photographs. As to why it does so, here’s a short speech from Tony Blair in 1988 on why photographs in news is not fair dealing and why the exemption was there; you can also read more at the full second reading debate.

    So, James Cridland may say “It’s clearly not feasible or in anyone’s interest to have a policy which is based on “don’t post any photographs on major breaking news stories until you have diligently discovered the original photographer, contacted them, discussed copyright use with them and reached agreement for further use”.” and I may well agree with him, but that is the law as it currently stands, put there to protect photographers’ rights (and income). And I don’t think large organisations should go around breaking the law just because it’s “not feasible” or even not “in anyone’s interest”. If photographers wish to give up rights to their photos, they can easily do so; but large media organisations don’t have the right to take it from them.

    1. James Cridland

      All that Andy’s asking for in the original post is a name credit, however. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of copyright, and naive to kick up a fuss about.

      As I now understand it, the BBC balances a requirement to attain permission for reproducing photographs with a public-interest requirement in major stories. In terms of a credit, there are also clear privacy implications in quoting photographer names in connection with major news stories (even if you can discover the original photographer’s name, which is not easy in an era of reposting photographs). Should a photographer get in touch with the BBC, as you can see above, they’re happy to credit correctly, or to arrange payment.

      As @jearle put it succinctly in tweets:
      “They use copyright material for breaking news and seek redress with the owners after. That is common policy. If they use a twitpic, you put in your claim, they pay you the going rate. That is what I would want them to do and what they actually do. Been there, seen that, done it.”

      As a content creator, this seems to me to be an eminently sensible way of balancing accurate, fast reporting on major stories like the Tottenham riots, and the very valid requirements of copyright owners to profit from their work.

      For the avoidance of doubt: nowhere am I suggesting that any organisation helps themselves to photographs without recompense. I am, however, urging pragmatism and balance to a debate that is naive and fails to recognise the pressures and requirements of fast breaking news gathering, or the privacy requirements of those photographers. There are very few examples where the “use first, buy later” argument holds. The London riots is, in my opinion, one of those examples.

      The law, incidentally, also forbids me to wash my car in the street on a Sunday; and forbids me to rip a CD to my iPod. Let’s not get into minutiae about what the law says, and concern ourselves with the actual practicalities of fast breaking news reporting.

      1. Michael Smethurst


        > All that Andy’s asking for in the original post is a name credit, however.

        That’s not my reading. Andy’s post tells a story chronologically. The story starts with a complaint about attribution. And moves on to a response that doesn’t deal with attribution but does make a wider claim about copyright on content from “social network platform[s] which is available to most people who have a computer”. Andy doesn’t make it explicit that this claim is the subject of the post but it’s fairly obvious from the fact that this statement is bold that that’s the issue he’s raising.

      2. Matthew Somerville

        “I am, however, urging pragmatism and balance to a debate that is naive and fails to recognise the pressures and requirements of fast breaking news gathering,” – if the BBC (or other organisation) has a policy, in such situations, of infringing copyright and making up for it afterwards (or “settling”), then that’s fine, but it should state this clearly, not have Editorial Guidelines that state that “A picture available without meaningful restrictions on a website may be considered to be in the public domain”. They should also be clear that they are infringing, even if they believe they are doing it in the public interest (given the furore around phone hacking, I think references to that, and the pressures of the newsroom might be best avoided, given the use of that argument as a defence there 🙂 ). Otherwise they, as a leading broadcaster, make it appear that taking people’s photos is just fine (especially as other people can see the infringement, but do not see any settlement afterwards).

        I believe your car washing reference to be an urban myth, unless you have evidence to the contrary. The CD thing is of course true and another area where copyright law is outdated. But I don’t think the BBC does or should be advocating people to do it either, even if many individuals choose to do so; you are not the same as a large media organisation.

        1. James Cridland

          “if the BBC (or other organisation) has a policy, in such situations, of infringing copyright and making up for it afterwards (or “settling”), then that’s fine, but it should state this clearly”

 states this clearly, and pretty well says what I just did. Good to see the BBC responding, and also clarifying that the initial reply was incorrect. (I said that, too.)

          And, as you say, the “illegal to wash your car in the street on a Sunday” is not English law; it’s Swiss. You win that one.

      3. Ralph Little

        James, your responses all seem to come down to the same thing, which is that the BBC is a big organisation trying to handle real-time stories at the cutting edge of news, therefore copyright, which is actually law (not guidance) is necessarily circumvented when it is inconvenient.

        I’m sorry, but this is not acceptable. The BBC using media of this kind without permission is illegal, inconvenience is not an excuse that is accepted by the courts.

        The issue has come up more recently because of the ease of accessibility of media on the Internet. Back in the day where news organisations used images and film submitted to them by photographers and new agencies, the issue rarely came up. Just because this media is more accessible does not mean that it is a take-all pay-nowt free-for-all. It is lazy and irresponsible.

        As has been pointed out by others, if I “found it inconvenient” to get permission from the BBC for using some of their copyrighted material, their lawyers would on me like a ton of bricks.

        “nowhere am I suggesting that any organisation helps themselves to photographs without recompense”
        “I am, however, urging pragmatism”

        In other words, “I know it’s illegal, but it is unreasonable of us to expect them to obey it”. Wow, there is just so much wrong-headed about that opinion.

        1. James Cridland


          My comments boil down to: the BBC strives to do the right thing by contacting photographers beforehand but on very rare occasions there are very real reasons why the time to do that beforehand is not in the wider public interest of reporting breaking news: yet the BBC makes every effort to make amends afterwards (after breaking civil law, I agree with you). The recent riots are a perfect example of this.

          There is a vast amount of difference between this and, say, the Daily Mail’s unpleasant behaviour, chronicled today in

          “Just because this media is more accessible does not mean that it is a take-all pay-nowt free-for-all.” – I’ve at no stage claimed that any news organisation should help themselves to photographs without recompense. Deliberately confusing or mis-attributing my point of view to bolster your argument is a very poor way to carry on. And it’s also libellous: a good lawyer would recommend that you corrected that error.

          1. Ralph Little

            “And it’s also libellous: a good lawyer would recommend that you corrected that error.”

            Perhaps YOU should re-read what I wrote James.

            “Just because this media is more accessible does not mean that it is a take-all pay-nowt free-for-all.”

            That is a statement of my opinion, not what I think yours is.

            The accusation stands however. The BBC occasionally uses copyrighted media without permission when it is expedient for them to do so, and regardless of the fact that it is illegal.

            The problem is that many organisations think about copyright as a “soft law”, like some people think of speeding and copying CDs. People do these things purely because the vast majority of the time, they think they will get away with it. It isn’t right and it certainly is something that the average person would think the BBC would be more scrupulous about.

            1. James Cridland

              Apology accepted, Ralph, however wriggly it was.

              However, your view on whether the BBC is better or worse than the Daily Mail, for example, would have advanced the debate. But blindly repeating your own opinion isn’t really enhancing a conversation.

          2. Ralph Little

            Additionally, you might wish to clarify to the readers exactly what you mean by “I am, however, urging pragmatism…”

  56. Emma

    Read post and comments with interest. More of a question though than a comment (as copyright to me is always a grey area and one that has made my head burst on occasion) but how do the terms of service of Twitter, TwitPic, Yfrog etc play into the use by the BBC?

    For example, I’ve just looked at: and read the following:

    By uploading content to Twitpic you give Twitpic permission to use or distribute your content on or affiliated sites.

    To publish another Twitpic user’s content for any commercial purpose or for distribution beyond the acceptable Twitter “retweet” which links back to the original user’s content page on Twitpic, whether online, in print publication, television, or any other format, you are required to obtain permission from Twitpic in advance of said usage and attribute credit to Twitpic as the source where you have obtained the content.

    You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic. However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) 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.

    I’d be interested in knowing if that raises more questions about what you can and can’t do with images from Twitter/social media.

  57. Pingback: Copyright for images in social media | Ewan's Blog on IT and stuff like it

  58. Moysten Gorjus

    Some of the richest people I know are Intellectual property Lawyers. It is because Copyright Law is not simple that they are rich.It is a simple as that

  59. Pingback: » BBC: “Broadcast Before Consent”?

  60. Pingback: When will we stop saying “Pictures from Twitter” and “Video from YouTube”? | Online Journalism Blog

  61. Andy Mabbett Post author

    I have now received a further response from the BBC:

    Dear Mr Mabbett

    Thank you for your further e-mail [sic].

    We apologise for the human error which meant our earlier response fell well below the standards we expect from our staff. We are looking into what went wrong on this occasion and will use what we have learnt in future staff training. Quality is at the forefront of everything we do and we take errors of this nature very seriously.

    We hope your original point of concern has now been clarified in the BBC News Social Media Editor – Chris Hamilton’s blog at:

    Apologies again for any confusion caused.


    [name redacted]

    Senior Complaints Advisor for News and Current Affairs
    BBC Audience Services

    NB – This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

    and have duly submitted a further complaint:

    Thank you for your e-mailed apology for the misleading response sent in your last e-mail. I also wish to place on record my appreciation for the prompt and courteous responses I have received from several of your staff, in comments on my blog, and on Twitter.

    However, I note that you again write from an address to which I cannot reply, thereby making me use your tedious complaints web forms to respond; a website where I must repeat information which I have already given to you twice during discussion of this matter. I consider that artificial barrier to dialogue extremely discourteous.

    The justification for your failure to give proper attribution, given in Chris Hamilton’s blog post, lacks credibility. The issues of the safety and privacy of photographers are the exception not the rule, and certainly don’t apply in those cases where the photographer is already identified on the hosting service from which you lift the pictures.

    Furthermore, as I note in my original complaint, even if you do not credit individuals, giving credit to Twitter is misleading; the pictures have usually come not from there, but from other sites, such as TwitPic, Yfrog or Flickr.

    As journalists, you should be citing your sources, not the transmission media they use, as you would for a written or verbal comment.

    Finally, you have completely ignored my comments about your audience log; please will you now do as I asked, and provide me with the exact wording used there, about my original complaint; and if necessary have it amended to reflect my actual comments.

      1. Andy N

        Sorry James, I don’t understand your reply, who mentioned a moon or a stick?… & personal abuse, doesn’t that indicate you’ve lost the argument?

      2. Alex Coley

        @James Cridland.
        Describing you as arrogant seems truer than ever seeing your last ten days commentary. But it was not a personal insult. It’s a self-evident statement of fact, which you have borne out here.

        Calling someone a ‘spoilt brat’ is a personal insult. Losing the argument by your own rules, that is priceless.

        And if the Mayfair thing is also false then your comments about sarcasm also ring pretty hollow.

        Seems like the BBC is much better off without your ‘Do as I say, don’t do as I do,” attitude. Just the kind of practice that leads to infringing copyright with the excuse that it’s all too much work while wanting it both ways.

        1. James Cridland

          Gosh, Alex, I love you too, my friend.

          I don’t think I’ve lost an argument at all. The reply was to Andy’s long and whinging response to the BBC’s rather exemplary handling of this issue.

          They’ve answered saying that the original response was wrong, and have taken part in this conversation in a way that goes far and beyond their call of duty. Yet, Andy feels it’s fair to submit a further, six paragraph long, “and another thing!” complaint. I find it hard to understand how I’ve lost an argument here; but in my eyes, Andy looks rather petulant.

          Indeed, all the way through this, I’ve been very clear that, in almost all cases, there is no excuse for copyright infringement, by any organisation. You and I agree on this, I’m sure. Where we differ is that I believe it’s the BBC’s duty, first and foremost, to report important news in the public interest. Very, very (very!) occasionally, this results in a “use first, ask permission shortly afterwards” for photographs that are extremely newsworthy – using photographs that are already freely visible to anyone online. (That last bit’s quite important, actually – it highlights much of the real issues around this debate.)

          Most of the debate in this blog post has been characterised by a breathtakingly naive attitude to copyright use in the real world, and how a busy newsroom operates under stress. There clearly is a debate to be had. It’s clear here is not the place to have a sensible one.

          Incidentally, all the photographs I publish online are done so under a Creative Commons BY licence. Those that I don’t want people using are hidden from public view. Protecting your photographs from (mis)use by others is not rocket science.

    1. CT Rambler


      To get information they have on the audience log, do a Data Protection Act request, specifying that you want information of you held by them. That way they are legally compelled to reply to you.


    1. Andrew Bowden

      Ah, if only it were that simple! Whilst true for most directly employed BBC employees, if there happens to be more than one person of that name in the organisation you’ll stand only a limited chance of getting through with that approach. And as for if they work for a third party like Capita, well no change.

  62. A

    It would be interesting to know how the BBC defines public interest? Can showing photos from Facebook of the murdered kids in Norway can be defined as “public interest” with plenty of professional photos available of the island and Oslo? Were the kids’ relatives so unknown that the media was not able to contact anybody about the photos? In the end, many would say this is about 24 hour rolling news and keeping up with or topping competitors and not ‘public interest’ at all. There needs to be an overall review of this in all media organizations – it is somewhat unfair to single out the BBC as this applies to print and broadcasting across the board both nationally and internationally. However, despite the retraction, when the BBC statement goes into details over the retraction, it actually makes matters even more murky and many would say fails to admit, “We know it’s breaching copyright – we do it because if we didn’t publish/broadcast it, our competitors would and everyone would tune into them or go on to their website and we all operate by force of numbers now whether it’s right or wrong …”.

  63. tp

    The real reason for these policies is that big company like BBC has enough money to buy their way out of any copyright problems, since the actions are so rare. So they can afford it, and they have calculated that it takes too long time to ask for permission, and thus they can use whatever they find from the internet. Guess the law only works for people who don’t have enough money to pay for 100k of damages.

  64. Julián Landerreche

    Playing by copyright rules is not just old fashion, but also unjust. Everyone, even BBC and media corporations (more precisely, individuals working for those organization) are free to copy (copying != stealing physical property, get with it once and for all, please) whatever falls into the public domain.
    And intellectual works published/released willingly (not taken by force from privacy/private) falls into the public domain.
    “What has been seen cannot been unseen” isn’t just a funny Internet meme. Similarly, what has been shared, cannot be un-shared, and what has been copied cannot be un-copied.

    Not giving proper credit (the claim by Andy Mabbett) is just related to manners. So, giving proper credit cannot (and shouldn’t) even than can be forced. Giving wrong credit (mis-attribution) is another matter, related to our right to truth.

    Some people seem to prefer to play by the rules/laws (copyright) corporations impose via lobby & state enforcement. So, in this case, that the board turned over BBC, some people prefer/like to use the already unjust laws of copyright to chase down the BBC.

    What if they are giving us just enough rope, so then, they can state: “OK, let’s all stick to copyright rules, and thus, let’s push more measures (laws, prosecutions) against those who violate it.”?

  65. A

    Hi Julian,

    In which country do you live? Have I understood you correctly? Can you quote the regulation which says when something is posted in the public, it becomes ‘public domain’? Public domain means copyright no longer exists for a particular piece of work. If what you say operates in your country, I don’t suppose there are any professional creators: writers, artists, musicians as well as freelance journalists and photographers, filmmakers and no companies either with such pursuits because it’s not just about the “right to truth” about attribution. T hey wouldn’t be able to earn anything from literary, dramatic, musical, artistic work, typographical arrangements of published editions, sound recordings, films and computer programs. Such a situation here would create enormous amounts of unemployment. While attribution and earning from works can be separate, whether you like or not, they are inextricably linked because if copyright (maybe it’s an old fashioned term which should be updated to another term) didn’t exist many would say you would have looting of people’s work and people falsely putting works under their names. To try by force of numbers to destroy copyright means you will destroy the right of the creator to have his or her work attributed to him or her.

    1. Julián Landerreche

      Hi A.
      I live in Argentina. There is copyright regulation here too. Copyright is just outdated, un-practical, unfair regulation. As prove, just check again what the BBC did: they circumvented current regulation. Did the BBC steal anyone? No. Did the BBC harm anyone? No (maybe some egos were hurt).
      Yes, a business model is dying, the statu quo may be just chaning. It happens. Should that business be protected at any cost? Should the publishing corporations lobby the governments to protect their business and traditional business models?

      T hey wouldn’t be able to earn anything from literary, dramatic, musical, artistic work, typographical arrangements of published editions, sound recordings, films and computer programs. Such a situation here would create enormous amounts of unemployment.

      Why do you think people will stop doing what they like because it may or may not have any value on market. That being said, there are other possible business models for artists/creators, many of those models cutting the man in the middle (the one whose business model is to sell copies, not art performance), and letting the creators do business directly with their fans.

      if copyright (…) didn’t exist many would say you would have looting of people’s work and people falsely putting works under their names.

      This seems just wishful thinking, too.
      Do you see people stealing other’s works and try to pass them as their own, original creations? (you may say that people doesn’t do this because of copyright regulation already existing)
      Don’t you see a lot of people properly attributing, promoting and giving credit to the works/creations of other people? I see it everyday, on Twitter (people retweeting, not just copy-pasting tweets as if they were they own tweets), on YouTube (people creating videos for their favorite artists or recording covers), on blogs (people properly quoting and linking back to other’s articles). And on the BBC (nah!).

      1. Martin

        “Why do you think people will stop doing what they like because it may or may not have any value on market. That being said, there are other possible business models for artists/creators, many of those models cutting the man in the middle (the one whose business model is to sell copies, not art performance), and letting the creators do business directly with their fans.”

        Copyright law is the only thing protecting the creators from those fans simply using the output and not paying for it. You pretend like copyright law is just for corporations, but it isn’t. It protects the artists themselves. Sometimes artists make money by SELLING some of their rights to the corporation. But the only reason the corporation is willing to pay the artist for those rights is because the copyright is protected by law.

        Alternate business models, you say? The alternate business model for music is live performances only. The alternate business model for books is called paper copies only. The alternate business model for movies is called only show in theaters. No more MP3s, no more DVDs, and no more eBooks. And even then, without copyright law the quality and quantity of art produced would go down. Who is going to pay $200M to make a movie that anyone sophisticated enough to circumvent their protections can just copy and redistribute? I promise, I can find a way around ANY protection scheme for a whole lot less than $200M.

        And as the ways of copying even those forms of art (live performance and paper books only) become more commonplace and cheaper, the creation of art will slowly wither away. Why, you ask, would people stop creating something when you’ve driven its value to nil? Because they need to feed their families. They would need DAY JOBS SO THEY COULD EAT. Without copyright protection, then eventually they certainly wouldn’t be getting paid for making art.

        You believe copyright is an “unfair” regulation? Tell me, what do you do for a living? Is it “unfair” that you get paid for your work? It must be, since you seem to think that it’s unfair for the people who create movies, music, books and pictures to get paid for what they do.

        Just because it’s *easy* to infringe copyright these days doesn’t make it either legal or moral. And just because it isn’t *your* rights being trampled and abused doesn’t mean that no damage has been done.

      2. Stephen Booth

        People create works for a variety of reasons, as a means to an income is a very common one and is typical of those who produce high quality works. To be a professional artist (be that in the fields of writing, music, photography, painting, sculpture or whatever) means that it is your primary source of income. It’s your job, without copyright you have no realistic expectation of income from that job so have to take another job. If you take another job you have less time to be creative. Prior to copyright law the way to protect your rights to have an income from your work was to hunt down and kill anyone who stole your work. Kind of puts a Cease and Desist letter in perspective!

        Something important to remember. Even the leading advocates of free software such as Richard S Stallman, Linus Torvalds and Eric Raymond make their income (or have made their income) for writing/designing software for sale and put restrictions on what you can do with what they give away for free. They don’t release it to the public domain but instead under a license. The GPL license, originally written by RSS, requires that if you use any of code covered by it in your own software then that software must also be released under the GPL (although there is a milder LGPL license).


      3. A

        Hi Julian,


        Bearing in mind, noone has ever said that creators with copyright should not deal directly with customers (many do), what are the alternative business models for creators, if everything was put in the public domain?

  66. Bob Croxford

    There is a legal precedent for this. Its called the Banier Judgment which stated when a nespaper used a picture without asking for a licence first………..
    “This may be common newspaper practice and one which newspapers normally get away with. The risk of infringement proceedings may, from a business and circulation point of view, be worth taking. It may be economic to ‘publish and be damned’. But it is plainly unjustified and unlawful and the sooner this is recognised the better for all concerned. The adoption of this practice is not a passport to infringe copyright”

    The BBC policy of ‘publish first and forget to even ask afterwards is plainly unlawful.

    The Banier case reputedly cost the Sun nespaper £50,000 plus legal costs.

  67. Bob Croxford

    ” if copyright (…) didn’t exist many would say you would have looting of people’s work and people falsely putting works under their names.

    This seems just wishful thinking, too.
    Do you see people stealing other’s works and try to pass them as their own, original creations? (you may say that people doesn’t do this because of copyright regulation already existing) Don’t you see a lot of people properly attributing, promoting and giving credit to the works/creations of other people?”

    As a professional photographer I have found hundreds of my images on Flickr and other sites and I have yet to find a single one of those thieves giving me the courtesy of a credit or asking me first.

    1. Julián Landerreche

      See, Bob, you quoted some sentences (sentences I posted), but you didn’t even take the time to correctly attribute them to me, or, as you said, “giving me the courtesy of a credit”.

      Even worst, Bob, you didn’t even take the time nor effort to quote me properly, in a way that makes it clear for everyone participating in this great discussion who said what. You added up to confusion.

      So, if anyone reads Bob’s comment, it seems that Bob is saying what, in fact, I did say.

      So, Bob, you are asking other “thieves” to give credit or ask you first when they re-post copies for your professional photos, but you couldn’t take the time to properly post a blockquote of my comment. Are your professional photos far more valuable than my comment? And why do you ask others to do what you can’t take the time nor effort to do?

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  69. Terence Eden

    There’s another aspect, which I think may have been overlooked – that of competition.

    Let’s say The Guardian Newspaper pays me for exclusive rights to my photo.

    If the BBC (or whoever) use that picture without contacting the rights-holder, they’ve done two rather bad things…

    Breach of copyright law etc – as detailed in previous comments
    Engaged in unfair competition with another media-player

    News organisations exist in a competitive commercial environment.
    The Guardian makes a calculated decision that paying me £500 will net it an advantage over its rivals – draw more traffic in with “Exclusive first pictures of….” etc.

    When the BBC use my image without permission, they’re not just hurting me; they’re engaged in a form of unfair competition IMO.

    The BBC News straddles a fine line when it comes to commercial behaviour. They want to increase viewing numbers, but have vastly different commercial pressures from most other news sources (a good thing!).

    To wilfully ignore their legal obligations, they are being unfair to content creators and their media rivals. In the long run, that’ll come back to haunt them.

    There really is no news so urgent that reporting on it requires breaking copyright law. If you can’t contact who you believe to be the originator of a copyrighted piece of work – use another or don’t publish it at all.

  70. Peter Downes

    Andy Mabbett and others intent on defending copyright law to the death – I trust none of you are in possession of BBC copyright material downloaded illegally and without payment via BitTorrent? Or is it OK for you to breach other peoples copyright whilst complaining about the BBC breaching copyright?

    1. Andy Tinkler

      No it isn’t OK for me to breach other people’s copyright whilst complaining about the BBC breaching copyright. That’s why I don’t.
      Neither do I shoplift, burgle houses, hack bank accounts or mug old ladies. Taking from people things that they’ve worked hard to get just ain’t my style.
      All pretty straightforward, really.

    2. Stephen Booth


      can’t speak for everyone but I can say that I don’t have any illegally downloaded BBC copyright material. All of the BBC copyright material I have was legally bought and paid for. I even pay my TV license every month by direct debit to make sure that I never accidentally breach the terms of that. I’ve never used bittorrent.

      I do wonder why you would assume that anyone who defends copyright is automatically a hypocrite who breaches it themselves.


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  72. A

    The only instance I can think of where copyright may bs accused of doing a disservice is that of Crown Copyright which has been used by public servants to withhold information from the public but that relates, many would say, to a pseudo feudalistic set up which makes us ‘subjects’ when it comes to the access to information but citizens when it comes to being forced to pay for the salaries and pensions of those public servants withholding the information! But this is not about copyright per se but about the ‘the Crown’ being allowed to operate as a legal personality. In the case of news stories, unless the photo is the news story and in the public interest, the words of a news story can stand on their own without images.

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  77. glynis Powell

    Well done Andy and sensible reply from NUJ
    Next step: draft clear guidelines of how to research and ident. photos/assets via socialmedia ephemera for the poor over stretched, shouted at researcher/broadcast assistant..ooh and copyright in simple language – NUJ note here says it quite clearly – are studio researchers given proper opportunities to be trained?

  78. A

    Of course John is absolutely right. And to add to this, it seems to me that whoever framed this at the BBC also has a misconception about “public interest” as well as “public domain”. The public interest argument is used with news stories, for example, where subterfuge is used to gain information which it is vital to expose to the public. So the public interest overrides the subterfuge. Surely there are very few instances where publishing a photo without attribution to *accompany* a news story can be said to be in the public interest? Surely public interest when it concerns photos is much more cut and dry?

    Has anyone linked all this to “orphan works” and the recommendations of the Hargreaves report? This is where in my opinion it gets extremely tricksy, especially when consequent commercial transactions are involved. It’s therefore important to nip such dubious practices in the bud so photos which the original photographer doesn’t know have been used don’t get swallowed up and used as the property of archives claiming them as “orphan works”.

  79. Andy Mabbett Post author

    The BJP have an article, quoting the National Union of Journaist’s freelance organiser, John Toner (my emboldening):

    …it is extremely disturbing to see evidence of confusion by the BBC about the meaning of the term ‘public domain’.

    All photographs are protected by copyright, and this protection exists until 70 years after the death of the author. By simple arithmetic, if a photograph was taken yesterday then the author has clearly not been dead for 70 years. Confusion should only arise if the photographer is a Time Lord.

    Simply put, they should not be using photographs that they have not cleared. It is a fundamental right of every author to decide where his [or] her work is published. The BBC is trying to circumvent this by claiming public interest, but such a policy is clearly open to abuse.

    By overriding the author’s right to be identified, the BBC is not only damaging the author, but it is also doing a disservice to the public. In order to evaluate information, the public require to know the source. By concealing the identity of an author the BBC could be said to be acting against the public interest.

  80. A

    Just one more thing. What happened with BBC/Capita is disturbing in another way. It’s claimed that all feedback to the BBC is passed to the relevant person within the BBC. If a person in Capita did the reply which was plain wrong to Andy, does this mean that in fact his feedback was not passed to the relevant department? Of course, it’s equally disturbing if someone within the BBC did the reply.

    So how much other feedback has been given a wrong reply by an unqualified person? And what is actually reaching the relevant employees in the BBC? This isn’t just about copyright and attribution but the handling of feedback in this case deserves a full enquiry, especially if it’s representative of the way feedback in general in the BBC is handled.

    1. James Cridland

      “It’s claimed that all feedback to the BBC is passed to the relevant person within the BBC.” – do you have a source for this claim?

      (I agree with you. Wholeheartedly. And I also do not agree with the above statement, based on experience.)

      1. James Cridland


        The BBC say, in an FoI request, that they have 9 people dealing with complaints: their role is simply to provide advice to those handling the complaints in the call centre, which is operated by Capita.

        In June 2011, the BBC had 25,000 complaints.

        I would find it almost impossible to believe that a “relevant person” would be able to comment on every complaint, given those numbers. The “relevant people” would be able to do little else – and that’s if Capita even found out who the relevant people were around a complaint.

        Of interest: I hear that there’s a complaint made every single day, by the same person, that the UK is not a country and that the BBC should stop referring to it. If that person knew how much money he was costing the BBC in those futile complaints, he might stop. But I doubt it.

  81. A

    If you ring up BBC Audience Services/Capita and talk to them (avoid the automated switchboard system’s attempt to lead you to a voicemail), they tell you they pass feedback on to the production team of the programme concerned. I’m just telling you what the employees at BBC Audience Services/Capita claim.

    1. Andrew Bowden

      I used to work for the BBC and I can tell you that our team received weekly reports of what feedback there had been. Teams can also ask for them daily if they wish – indeed for some time this was how I got copies of relevant audience logs. Anyone in the BBC could ask for this data by the way and full copies of all feedback was posted on the intranet.

      However we only got the actual feedback itself. We didn’t get to see the replies, nor would I suspect most teams have the time to double check every answer that was being dished out (that’s why there’s a central team handling this stuff after all)

  82. A

    Hmm, weekly or daily logs. What if something requires more urgent attention? Gathering feedback accurately is one thing but someone early on should be making a judgement – piling everything into one list and expecting teams to plough through it all in detail is not realistic. Taking feedback for a media organisation requires the confidence of specialist knowledge and flexibility, not sticking to a call centre script, and is as much a skill as journalism. Are there specialist teams within the call centres? Dealing with feedback on news for example may require urgent action. The response to Andy required specialist knowledge (to be fair the BBC has admitted something has gone seriously wrong in this case but at the same time it begs the question how many other replies are not picked up as wrong and not made public).

  83. Andrew Bowden

    I can only speak for the part of the BBC I worked in but we certainly had a defined contact who would come to us for clarification or further detail if it was felt that they needed more information on a question or feedback. And did.

  84. A


    You and James do seem to have had differing experiences and I appreciate your qualification that this was your experience in one department. Many would say in the end it’s impossible to monitor how well feedback is handled, having a call centre in a separate building in a separate town or city from the departments at which the feedback is directed. Taking BBC feedback is not the same as having a call centre for a retailer or a retail bank – many would say it requires some aspects of journalistic skills to take down feedback accurately, understand what the person is saying, make the connections and assess its urgency. Obviously, I don’t pretend to be an expert in organizing for feedback and also the volume of feedback the BBC receives nowadays. I guess in days of yore, when admittedly there was much less contact between audiences and the BBC, an experienced departmental secretary in the same office would have made the judgement call and have direct personal access to the production teams?

    1. Andrew Bowden

      Knowing a little of James’s role at the BBC, I’m not entirely surprised that he had a different experience to mine. In the radio department where he worked, that feedback would probably have been going to the Heads of Online for each of the radio station. It’s up to those people to do with the feedback what they wish. James’s team may well have heard about things that were raised from that feedback, but not necessarily known where they came from (a similar thing would sometimes happen in my department when, for example, BBC Sport would raise a matter with us and it would turn out to be related to something from the audience logs)

      But as I say everyone in the BBC has full and complete access to the feedback that comes in regardless. It’s all on the intranet waiting to be found. The trouble is, not everyone at the BBC knows this!

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  86. A

    That’s very informative Andrew. Thanks for that. It seems there is a more accountable system in place but not everyone in the BBC is aware of it. It does still strike me that it would be better to have some kind of monitoring/judgement call at an early stage for matters of fact such as that Andy raised originally where there is the possibility that something is plain wrong and of course appropriate checking of responses in such cases which obviously did not happen with the original response to Andy. Now it seems a voicemail has also been set up for feedback and presumably people in the call centre are transcribing the voicemails. I would also observe then there is a danger that the person at the BBC looking at the feedback on their computer may be swayed more by force of numbers, feedback on the same subject, and could overlook a single message which nevertheless covers an important issue.

    1. James Cridland

      “Everyone has access to the feedback” isn’t quite the same as “feedback is fed to the relevant programming team”. Slinging something up on an intranet doesn’t guarantee it’ll be read by the right people: or that they will be able to respond.

      When I joined the BBC, one of the first things I had to do was fix a creaking Radio Player infrastructure – the thing was breaking down every week or so, and we got a fair amount of complaints. During the first week, I was sent a few complaints from listeners, which I responded to, dutifully copying in the BBC people involved. This, I discovered, was almost worthy of a disciplinary: not only was I unable to respond, I had no right (in spite of being hired as a senior manager) to ever mail audience members directly. I was expressly forbidden from doing so ever again, to my bewilderment.

      As I understand it, the way it worked is that a complaint or question would be sent to Capita, who, if they didn’t feel they knew the answer, would send it to someone at the BBC, who, if they felt they didn’t know, would contact someone in editorial for the service responsible, who, if they didn’t know, would talk to “one of the techies”. This was during a time of criticism of the BBC for using Windows Media for their iPlayer television service – heaven knows what people were being told when the information was reversed back up the knowledge tree to Capita.

      As an example of how the BBC deals with enquiries, you might like to look at this example on Quora. I much prefer Mozilla’s answer, rather than pointing people towards an inpenetrable (and, in this case, wholly irrelevant) policy document. (No criticism of Clare – she’s lovely, and was clearly trying to help within the BBC way of doing things.)

  87. A

    I can understand that replies should be double checked and a centralized record kept before sending out so perhaps that was the original spirit of these rules but it’s all become distorted?

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  90. Andy Mabbett Post author

    I’ve been reminded that I haven’t yet posted the response I received from the BBC on 18 August. Apologies for the delay. They said:

    Dear Mr Mabbett

    [case reference]

    Thank you for your further e-mail.

    I appreciate you have raised a number of issues which I hope to address below.

    With regard to the crux of your concerns, we have passed your further points onto the relevant editorial teams. They note your view of the reasons we gave for why we sometimes aren’t able to attribute pictures, which were that it’s sometimes not possible to make contact with the person who took them, or they don’t want to be contacted, or we might consider it too dangerous to try to make contact – a significant issue in our coverage of the recent Arab uprisings.

    The safety and privacy of photographers is something that has to be central to our considerations, especially in these often volatile situations, with potential immediate or long term safety threats. We never assume that just because a photographer identifies themselves elsewhere, that they’re happy to be identified in BBC News output, with the likely exposure to a much bigger audience. There are numerous examples where people named elsewhere have wished to remain anonymous on the BBC for exactly this reason.

    Secondly, the blog text you’re referring to states “our practice has been to label the photo to indicate where it was obtained, such as “From Twitter” [sic; I think they meant to close quotes twice here], i.e. it was an example of the type of labelling we might use when a copyright credit isn’t possible, for any of the reasons outlined. But your point has been noted by our editorial team.

    Turning to your points about the handling of your complaint, firstly, the main reason we ask people to use our webform, even when replying to an email we’ve sent, is because we deal with over a million audience contacts every year and we have to ensure they can be efficiently tracked using our handling system. In addition, our complaints and general enquiries webforms ask for essential information such as channel, programme name and transmission date which means we don’t have to write back to people unnecessarily. Using a webform also guarantees we can match a return contact up with the previous contact from that person without the need to cross-check thousands of unformatted emails which would then have to be manually transferred into the tracking system.

    I appreciate this may be annoying, but we did not take this decision lightly. Our policy takes into account what is operationally efficient and avoids the need to employ additional staff to process incoming emails.

    With regard to your concerns about our audience log, I can confirm that your original complaint appeared unedited, as follows:

    “Use of photographs ‘from Twitter’.

    Your reporting of this evening’s riot in Tottenham included photographs which you said, were “from Twittter”. You may have found them via that website but they would have been hosted elsewhere and taken by other photographers, whom you did not name and whose copyright you may have breached. You have done this with other recent news stories such as the Oslo attacks. This is not acceptable. In future, please give proper credit to photographers.”

    This is exactly how your complaint appeared following your online webform submission on the BBC Complaints website. I appreciate this shows that your original complaint was not sufficiently addressed in a number of ways and I again apologise for any confusion caused.

    We hope this allays your concerns, should you now wish to proceed to the second stage of the complaints process regarding the BBC’s policy on photograph copyright and attribution, it’s now open to you to write to the Director of BBC News:

    Helen Boaden
    BBC News
    Room 5601
    Television Centre
    Wood Lane
    London W12 7RJ

    Should you choose to escalate your complaint our procedures stipulate you do so within 20 days of receiving this correspondence.

    While I don’t think that’s a very satisfactory response, for a number of reasons, I decided not to pursue the case with Ms Boaden, as I’m now in dialogue with BBC staff directly, about the matter.

  91. Danvers Baillieu

    Hi Andy – you asked me to summarise my views on this debate, which are that in some circumstances it would be possible to argue that there is an implied licence available to news organisations to use photos posted to Twitter (e.g. of news events), although this does not mean that obligations to credit and pay photographers are removed. Clearly, if a photo is marked (or uploaded to a site such as Flickr, which is explicit about any re-use terms) as not for commercial use, then a news organisation would not be able to use it. I would not argue such an implied licence exists for personal photos placed on Facebook, even though this is a routinely plundered source for the press, the moment someone hits the news.

    I’m quoted further in this article, which I believe you’ve seen:

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  95. Tanya Jackson

    i think you will find that Copyright law gives news organisations a pretty wide exception from the laws of copyright. Newspapers, TV websites are pretty much able to reproduce what they like if it relates to a current news story. Books, other TV programs etc are different.

    Tanya J

  96. Neil

    Hi there, interesting thread, but as a past employee of BBC Audience Services in Belfast (not a dusty office as claimed above but an £8.8million office) in Belfast city centre.

    I think it is unfair to suggest (as some have above) that Capita are almost inadequate to answer complaints on behalf of the BBC.

    In fact, they are the most qualified people to answer the complaints doing so now for almost 13 years. Capita staff in Belfast have daily correspondence with BBC staff in England to keep afoot of all major developments.

    Whilst sometimes a wrong answer is sent out to an audience member this is something that unfortunately is unavoidable in all businesses but something that I can assure you are taken very seriously by Capita management in Belfast.

    I am not going to get caught up in any longwinded debates, but i thought it necessary to speak up for the many great staff in the BBC Audience Services team at Capita with whom I have had the pleasure of working with.

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  99. Wandering Dutchman

    I once caught the BBC Radio 2 website using one of my photos. I just enquired how they obtained my photo and got a rather snooty email back, after which I sent the BBC an invoice with proof of ownership of the photo. A cheque for the full amount duly arrived.

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