Photos on Twitter. Copyrighted or public domain?

You cannot deny it, Twitter is out there. Twitter is all around us. But is its content free to use of those who want to use it? Or is it copyrighted? The BBC reignited the flame around this discussion. Unintentionally.

During the recent Oslo attacks and the London riots, BBC used Twitter images in their press coverage.

Andy Mabbett, a blogger and amateur photographer, complained to the BBC about the way the broadcast corporation used and credited the photo he posted on Twitter. No (user) name was mentioned. The photo merely mentioned “from Twitter”.

Mabbett stated: “You may have found them via Twitter, but they would have been hosted elsewhere and taken by other photographers, whom you did not name and whose copyright you may have breached”.

The BBC’s first reaction was remarkable, to say the least: “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.” was amazed! So everything on Twitter is in the public domain and therefore not subject to any copyright whatsoever? What the….?

Mabbett again expressed his concerns and disappointment online, this time in a post that attracted a great deal of attention, especially in the photography community.

In response to the massive attention, Chris Hamilton, social media editor at the BBC, commented that the BBC was now “checking out the complaint response quoted above but, on the face of it, it’s wrong and isn’t the position of BBC News.” Ah well, that’s good to hear. And Hamilton continued: “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.”

Meanwhile the BBC has issued an official statement and confirmed that the initial response “doesn’t represent BBC policy.” and added: “In terms of permission and attribution, we make every effort to contact people who’ve taken photos we want to use in our coverage and ask for their permission before doing so. However, in exceptional situations, where there is a strong public interest and often time constraints, such as a major news story like the recent Norway attacks or rioting in England, we may use a photo before we’ve cleared it.”

Using Twitter content is easy and therefore people may tend to forget that the content may be copyrighted. Yes, even on Twitter.

Source: British Journal of Photography


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Erwin Hauër

“Hope is not a strategy.”



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