Dec 11 2009

Why Shouldn't The Mail Steal Your Photos?

Twitter people love to hate the Daily Mail, so it’s no surprise to see them leading the latest charge against Dacre’s outfit.

This time the newspaper’s website stands accused of using people’s photos – largely from Flickr – to illustrate a nice online liftestyle piece about ‘moneyfacing’. This is a charming optical illusion craze whereby you crease up half a banknote in front of your face to create an amusing composite image of you as the Duke Of Wellington or Her Majesty The Queen.

Thanks to the Internet this has gone global with people around the world apparently wasting valuable work-time to indulge in a harmless and mildy artistic jape. But the Mail obviously reproduced the photos without asking permission. ‘Adebond’ from Liverpool is not happy and says so in a comment on the Mail’s website:

You would think that a newspaper, & I use that term in the loosest sense of the word, would have a better comprehension regarding copyright infringement of digital media. Using someone’s images from another online source, where some rights have been reserved, is generally not the done thing. Oh look, what’s that over to the right. It’s only an ad supported website, so I’m assuming some revenue is being made from other peoples intellectual property?

Well done to the Mail to start with, for publishing the complaints but they raise some interesting questions.

At what point does material in the public domain become copyright? the people who published these images didn’t do so for financial gain. There is a genuine, if very slight, news story here which feels worthy of reporting. If I link to those photos am I also infringing people’s copyright? Might it be possible that they will actually enjoy seeing their work on the Mail’s website where it will be connected to millions of other people?

If they had wanted privacy then they should have changed their security settings. If they wanted payment then a little note or code would have made that clear. Some of them did [see the comment on this post below].

Generally, the principle online has always been that sharing is good. So what if the Mail made money out of it? Isn’t the point of open source and creative commons that we all benefit from the Internet’s link economy?

It seems that photographers are particularly cross about this idea of weakened copyright because their trade is being especially hard hit by the ubiquity of imagery online and the ease of creation by ‘amateurs’. This is partly about the Internet and partly about the availability of stunning quality digital equipment at prices anyone can afford – let along the pretty decent quality of modern mobile phone cameras. But there is no way back to the protected photojournalism elite. And the rest of us will never enjoy the same level of intellectual property rights on pictures again. This may be a good thing.

We still have to work out the rules and etiquette for online sharing/stealing. It is both polite and productive to at least credit people and link to them. But  in this case  has anyone really lost out?

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16 Responses to Why Shouldn't The Mail Steal Your Photos?

  1. Thom says:

    They weren’t taken off facebook, they were taken off my flickr stream which is the only place I’ve posted them. They were clearly labelled as cc-by-sa and if they’d correctly credited them and repeated the license there wouldn’t be a problem.

    It looks like a blog called stole them, the Telegraph wrongly credited it, and then the mail copied them and refused to credit anyone. The only innocent parties that I can see are myself and the Telegraph for being duped by the blog. I’ve repeatedly tried to contact the mail who are completely ignoring me and am about to try and contact the Telegraph.

  2. I don’t think we do need to work the rules out. The rules of copyright are clear. And filching people’s pictures is not right. Just because someone published a picture doesn’t mean they give up all rights to it.
    You might as well argue that I should be allowed to copy all the content off here and republish it. You might enjoy it. You should have changed your settings to block anyone reading your blog. Etc.

  3. RevDanCatt says:

    Oh where to start?

    “At what point does material in the public domain become copyright?”

    You’re doing it wrong … the question is “At what point does copyright material become public domain?” … you understand what Public Domain is? These photos have never been in the Public Domain.

    “If I link to those photos am I also infringing people’s copyright?”


    “Might it be possible that they will actually enjoy seeing their work on the Mail’s website where it will be connected to millions of other people?”

    Maybe, but if they were, they’d probably add Creative Commons Licenses to their photos, not full All Rights Reserved. They enjoy people seeing their work on the sites they decided to post them too, which is their choice.

    “If they had wanted privacy then they should have changed their security settings. If they wanted payment then a little note or code would have made that clear.”

    Well as the Daily Mail pulled them from Flickr …

    The “little note” would be the (c) All rights reserved. As for security settings, people, photographers, artists have the right to display their work, without wishing it to be copied and redisplayed with out following the correct license.

    “Generally, the principle online has always been that sharing is good. So what if the Mail made money out of it? Isn’t the point of open source and creative commons that we all benefit from the Internet’s link economy?”

    Yes, yes, you’re right, it *is* the point of Open Source and Creative Commons. And if the photographer wanted to share in this way they would have used Creative Commons, many people do, and many times newspaper/magazine use them correctly and in line with the photographers wishes.

    You are quite right, that’s totally what Creative Commons is for. But nothing to do with this particular case.

    “But I think in this case no-one has really lost out and the Mail, for once, has done absolutely nothing harmful.”

    Well apart from the copyright holders option to charge a tiny amount to allow the newspaper to display the photo. What if the Dail Mail uploaded 12 music tracks from unsigned artists without asking and no linking back to the musicians? I assume the same logic would apply … that the musicians should be glad of the massive exposure? That a track that they may one-day want to release as a single is now out there for free? You think that’s just fine and dandy to? What’s the difference?

    Good that the questions are being asked though, so thank you for that.

  4. Charlie,

    I doubt anyone would accuse the Daily Mail of moral consistency, but in terms of the news industry more broadly, Murdoch and other publishers are starting to beat the copyright drum rather loudly. If newspapers show a rather fuzzy view of rights online, they can hardly seize the moral high ground on this issue, although they are trying.

    Leaving that issue aside, this is another example of the news industry missing an opportunity to build community around what they do. When I use Creative Commons photos from sites like Flickr, firstly, I honour the terms of the licence. Secondly, I drop the Flickr user a note letting them know that I’ve used a photo on our site. It’s not only a way to use nice photos, but it’s also a way to build goodwill to what we’re doing and do a little soft touch promotion of our coverage. It takes a minutes out of my day to create that email, but instead of a backlash, I often get a thank you. They let their friends know that the Guardian has used their picture. It’s brilliant for everyone. Their are benefits to being good neighbours online, rather than viewing the internet as a vast repository of free content. As a journalist, I wouldn’t use a photo on Facebook without permission. Besides, the photos on Flickr are very high quality, and with the common use of Creative Commons, I know exactly what the terms of use are. As a user of Flickr who licences most of my photos under Creative Commons licence, I also feel that whatever photos I use, I’m also giving back to the community. It’s a much more honest relationship.

    Besides, isn’t it the news industry that is currently obsessed about people not paying for their content? Lack of respect for rights online, they say. I guess they’re right.

  5. Pingback: News organisations miss opportunity to build community with online photo use

  6. CharlieBeckett says:

    Thanks for all the comments. As usual, it is difficult to make general points out of a particular case (thought that won’t stop us trying…) but I think that Kevin has hit upon the real issue here and I think he has got right approach.
    It is ironic that the mainstream media is here acting in the same way that Murdoch has criticised the ‘new media’ community for doing. Likewise, it is interesting to see non-corporates talking about the value of copyright.
    This a fascinating but fuzzy area. The rules of copyright might be clear in principle but they are widely ignored and when that happens you have to look at the law and its implementation afresh.
    Oh, and by the way, you are welcome to replicate anything on here…

  7. adebond says:

    Firstly, thank you reproducing my comment from the Daily Mail website in full & in the context of the debate. I have seen much argument recently on both Flickr & Twitter about the infringement of image copyright & the misuse of photographers’ intellectual property & unfortunately this is just another example.

    There seems to be a general lack of understanding over the licensing of images, especially regarding those posted on the Internet, & their reproduction elsewhere. I was most surprised in this case that it was a national newspaper that didn’t seem to understand or ignored the rules of licensed digital media.

    “At what point does material in the public domain become copyright? ”

    The copyright for an image is created at the moment the photographer presses the shutter release. That image then becomes the intellectual property of the photographer & it is then up to them the licensing terms that they apply. Posting your images online to photo sharing sites such as Flickr is a great way to get them viewed by a wide audience but in no way does that then give other people the right to steal those pictures. The default setting when posting images to Flickr is All Rights Reserved. The onus is then on the photographer if they want to share their images through a different licensing agreement, of which Creative Commons is a fantastic way of explicitly stating what those terms are.

    In asking the question whether anyone actually lost out in this case, in what way did the original photographer benefit? The Daily Mail didn’t give them any attribution or link back to the original images. I totally agree that the online community is based around the premise of sharing. If I was to write a post about this issue on my blog & linked back to this article, I’m sure you would be more than pleased. If I was to cut & paste your article in its entirety & pass it off as my own work, I’m sure you’d have something less complimentary to say.

    For the record, I have recently started posting full resolution images to my Flickr photostream under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License, so please feel free to use them but don’t try & make any money from them :)

    I’m sure the debate will continue.

  8. Alex Cabrini says:

    “But there is no way back to the protected photojournalism elite. And the rest of us will never enjoy the same level of intellectual property rights on pictures again. This may be a good thing.”

    More is the pity! So we the audience are to be content with mediocre images of the same places then?

    Because it takes time and money to become a half-decent, established photojournalist.

    Especially on International stories where each trip might have cost weeks of planning, thousands of pounds in equipment / processing / flights / phone bills etc. Not to mention the hours spent on dodgy busses, the lack of sleep, the risks etc. Out of each trip you might get a couple of stories and maybe 6 really cracking shots which are unusable for advertising purposes.

    So yes, after years of sleeping on sofas and floors it really hurts when someone rips of one of your better shots and thinks you should be grateful for it!

    And if photojournalists can’t make money and protect their work then a lot of the important stories become un-viable.

    Copyright belongs to the creator automatically and if this concept is not protected or is allowed to be eroded then photojournalism risks becoming an elitist pursuit and the world will lose something precious. Who are the ‘protected elite’ by the way?

  9. CharlieBeckett says:

    Hi Alex,
    Thanks for your comment. This is a slightly different argument but here goes. As a traditional TV journalist I share your instinct for protecting quality etc. But all around me I see a surfeit of great imagery, often from ‘amateurs’. I think there was a lot of formulaic, unauthentic photojournalism before as well. Just because someone suffers for their art doesn’t make it great art. Yes we will lose some story-telling by artistic photographers voyaging to distant lands. But actually we are getting more material back from those lands by connecting to the people who actually live there.
    Copyright is another issue. I understand it can be enforced to an extent legally. But as the music business has discovered, enforcing legalities in the face of overwealming odds can be a distraction from finding better ways to support creativity. Some of the comments above don’t recognise that. The last time I looked the music industry appeared to be finding a way through this, photojournalism needs to do the same,

  10. I teach young journalists on a news site called I have drummed into them the fact that photographs on the internet belong to the people who created them. They are not there for anyone to appropriate. They have been told that they must always ask permission to use a photograph. I think (hope) they have always stuck to the rules (specially since in the first week I got them to pull off and replace half the images because they had not been credited). Charlie Beckett refers to a “protected photo journalism elite”. What absolute rubbish. Photojournalists are skilled craftspeople who will always be needed but just at the moment they are being royally sxxxxxd because they are almost all freelance and have absolutely no protection. Rates on most newspapers for example have not risen in about twenty years and this year the Guardian decided (without negotiation) to stop paying repeat fees thus cutting the income of the poorest contributors by a substantial sum. Charlie, just in case you didn’t understand it before, copyright is there to protect creative workers and they should be supported by the rest of us.

  11. Martin Belam says:

    Another nice irony from the Mail here is that their page uses JavaScript to make sure that if you try and cut’n’paste text from ‘their’ story, it gets appended with a message “Read more:” with a link back to the Mail URL and a unique tracking code, so that they can try and follow snippets of text appearing elsewhere on the web.

  12. Matt Wardman says:

    >It is ironic that the mainstream media is here acting in the same way that Murdoch has criticised the ‘new media’ community for doing.

    Yes, but Murdoch (and Baroness Buscombe) have both thoroughly traduced Google’s position/practice, and then attacked the straw man.

    My critique of the Baroness’ Society of Editors speech:

    (For the record, we should be as harsh on websites which do scrape RSS feeds without permission. Reputable sites don’t, just as reputable newspapers don’t breach others’ copyright).

  13. Alex Cabrini says:


    Thanks for the reply. A little more grist for the mill…

    I don’t think that if someone suffers for their art it necessarily makes it great art, what I was trying to say is that in order to make great art and cover important stories suffering is often part of the process.

    Also I don’t dispute that there are many very talented amateur photographers out there. However being a photojournalist is different to being a photographer or a reporter in that it requires you to understand and communicate the story in the most effective way possible. Sometimes in 6 shots, sometimes in 1.

    I do not believe many amateurs get access to some stories (or care to try – and who can blame them) let alone get under the skin of a story enough to be able to research, question, verify it and communicate the it objectively and effectively.

    The issue of ‘parachute’ journalism is a different one, and all the same arguments also seem to work for photojournalism – which is why I personally I have focussed several regions (mainly East Africa) for some years.

    I’m privileged to call friends some really good and highly respected ‘local’ photo-journalists in Africa (where I have also lived for some years).

    However the issue was copyright and ‘local photojournalists’ are still photojournalists and their copyright is also at risk here.

    What worries me as a consumer of news is that if we do not defend photojournalism, then we kill off a good many independents in the field. We make photojournalism even more the province of those who can afford to do it as a hobby / NGO’s etc. Effectively creating an elite. Our news becomes more parochial and formulaic as vested interests get in the way, some stories will be ill or un-reported.

    The music industry analogy is also quite different, just look at the business model – there are many more direct buyers of music and hearing a track everywhere is a good marketing tactic. Photojournalism on the other hand, relies on a few channels and places a premium on exclusivity.

    Thanks for raising this topic.

    ly these journalists don’t have the time to cover social interest stuff – that is important but ot breaking news. Also some, due to their without knowlege of any other culture

  14. Alex Cabrini says:

    Last post should have ended at thank for raising this topic – please disregard last para which was sent in error.

  15. Pingback: Commenters accuse Mail of image misuse – a bigger missed opportunity for publishers? | DAILYMAIL

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