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Pictures from the web

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:33 UK time, Tuesday, 19 February 2008

As I wrote recently there’s been some discussion here of late about the use of personal photos from social networking sites.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteMost recently, it came up at an Editorial Policy meeting organised by the BBC department of the same name which sets out guidelines to help BBC staff with tricky editorial issues. They hold monthly sessions, which are open to all BBC staff who work on TV, radio and online. Following each meeting, a newsletter is produced, summarising the outcome of the discussions and this is circulated to staff, and published externally. Here's what was said about pictures from social networking sites.


When should broadcasters re-use personal pictures and video available on the internet? Until relatively recently, pictures of members of the public who became the subject of news stories, particularly tragic events, were only available if supplied by family or friends. Now the growth of social networking and personal websites has made these pictures more readily available to the media. But their re-use can raise a number of legal and ethical issues.

This emerging ethical area was considered at the latest monthly Editorial Policy meeting for staff from throughout the BBC.

The ease of availability of a picture does not remove our responsibility to assess the sensitivities in using it. Simply because material may have been put into the public domain may not always give the media the right to exploit its existence.

The use of a picture by the BBC brings material to a much wider public than a personal website that would only be found with very specific search criteria.

Consideration should be given to the context in which it was originally published including the intended audience, the impact of re-use on those who may be grieving or distressed, and the legal issues of privacy and copyright. In the interests of accuracy, care should also be taken to verify the picture.


  • 1.
  • At 05:18 PM on 19 Feb 2008,
  • Jay Furneaux wrote:

In the interests of transparency it might be worth giving full picture credits (source) for pictures used. In today’s news for example you carry an un-credited picture of Jenna Parry:
The same picture s also used in several other news sites e.g Telegraph with the credit of a 3rd party – ‘Wales News Service’.
I would be interested to know if this picture was copied by the Wales News Service from a social networking site or been supplied by the family or a friend (the photographer and copyright owner)?
If copied by the news service from a website I think we should be informed of this. The BBC should ask how the pictures it uses are acquired?

If copied and used without permission then this makes me feel uneasy, particularly if the family or police had not explicitly given permission for it to be used. I am not convinced there is a public interest argument in using this photo if permission was not granted. The article about Bridgend is sufficient. Does adding a picture of Miss Parry add to it in any meaningful way?

I will also return to an issue I raised in an earlier post: was the original photographer approached and permission requested? If not then that is a technical breech of copyright. If permission was granted was the photographer offered financial reimbursement? (I assume the media – BBC included - pays for the use of an image supplied by an agency.)

Please clarify something in your post.

"Simply because material may have been put into the public domain"

Just because something is on the web, ie an image posted to Facebook or another website, does not mean it is in the public domain, a legal term meaning that anyone can do what they want with the content as no-one holds any rights to it.

As you yourselves know (ie the BBC), posting on the web DOES NOT EQUAL public domain, or I could do whatever I wanted with the iPlayer programmes and you would not add DRM

In almost every case, images and other content on the web are copyright to the creator and using them requires permission or use under Fair Dealing, which is what I guess you are actually referring to, not public domain.

A whole lot of comments about sensitivities and appropriateness, and only a throw-away line regarding copyright.

I'm guessing the BBC is confident it can cite "fair use" to bypass the Berne Convention (assuming fair use actually exists any more given the assaults against it carried out by the music and movie cartels, of course).

Out of curiosity, what comments, if any, from the Editor's Blog entries were discussed at the meeting - and how many people attending erroneously believe(d) that publication online equates to public domain/royalty-free use?

  • 4.
  • At 05:51 AM on 20 Feb 2008,
  • ann wrote:

I know this may come across as a tad naieve-but when people upload photos, personal data pertaining to themselves onto a public domain. ie social networking sites-Then the responsibility rests/remains with the author/"information provider".

Most people are aware,that it is a world wide web, and the rules that govern press/media do not apply. Truth is most people who surf the net enjoy the freedom the net affords them. It is a personal choice to become a member(s) of a social network group, and I think most people ARE AWARE that anything they upload to a particular site is not just posted for a particular group to browse/peruse, but for any/all to see.
I think, however the social networking thing has peaked- people who initially led the forum- their interest now has waned- off in the pursuit of the new.

Others whom had enjoyed, viewing it, as a recreationaltool, in the pursuit of fun- whom may not have realised, the consequences- of posting vids of their wild exploits-currently being viewed by a potential employer (or not as the case may be!) may now show caution and restraint in the hues that they choose to paint themselves.

I conclude by stating that it is personal responsibility, and at personal discretion, the personal data we choose to post on the boards on line. If people failed to realise that fact in the first instance,in the first avalanche of memberships to social networking sites-I think, perhaps born out of personal experience, people will demonstrate a more mature constraint in the personal info they choose to share on line.

As other people have said, using photos off of the internet is almost certainly copyright infringement, is it not?

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