Monday, 25 June 2007

It's all free on web 2.0 (or at least some people think it is)

I don't normally go 'off-topic' on this site (maybe I should and get more posts in); but over the last few months, I noticed a growing trend in some people/companies think that everything on the web is there for the taking.

The lastest one; which has prompted me to post about it, involves a Porno dvd, taking an image of a 14 year old girl! and using it as the cover!

LINK The link is safe; it goes to a Flickr account.

Its not only that they have taken the image but also the nasty emails when she complained about its use.

Another victim of this kind of theft is Rebekka Gudleifsdóttir her story can be read here.

These two examples are extreme cases but even big companies like the BBC are trying to get photographs for nothing.

The BBC use their photographic competitions as a way of building up a huge picture library and getting all their images for free.

In their T&C's you agree to the BBC doing what they like with your picture.

Contributions to

9. Where you are invited to submit any contribution to (including any text, photographs, graphics, video or audio) you agree, by submitting your contribution, to grant the BBC a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive, sub-licensable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, play, make available to the public, and exercise all copyright and publicity rights with respect to your contribution worldwide and/or to incorporate your contribution in other works in any media now known or later developed for the full term of any rights that may exist in your contribution, and in accordance with privacy restrictions set out in the BBC's Privacy Policy. If you do not want to grant to the BBC the rights set out above, please do not submit your contribution to

This is yet another example of the vaunted "citizen journalism" the BBC and other seem keen to trumpet - mainly because it saves them money.

If the BBC want to use your pictures then they should pay market rate for them. They wouldn't expect an article for free, so why should images be. This is even worse than asking for images already taken - they're effectively after a free photographer to cover a specific event.

Below is a article published by John Tracy of The Bureau of Freelance Photographers.

Few things make me mad these days. Amongst them: those who drive with music blaring loudly from their cars (why do these people think that others want to share their idea of entertainment?); people who have loud conversations on their mobile phones in public places (do we want to listen in on their banal chatter?); but what makes me most angry of all is organisations that exploit photographers by publishing their work without payment.

Over the years, we at the BFP have exposed many examples of this behaviour. Sometimes its a magazine that publishes pictures without paying or even creditting the photographer, and I'm not just referring to the smallest titles either. Some years ago, the UK biggest magazine publisher had a policy of not paying for pictures published in one of its titles. When the BFP approached the managing director of that company, he responded by saying that pictures are submitted by amateurs, "so why should we pay them?".

He added, "besides they like to see their pictures in print."

Well even professionals like to see their pictures in print, but they also expect a cheque in the post too. We plugged away and now, I'm happy to say, you can be safe in the knowledge that all IPC magazines - including railway titles - pays for pictures.

With the advance of the internet, there are even more examples of photographer exploitation, but we did not expect the BBC - that once great bastion of responsible and ethical broadcasting - to join this trend. Yet they, too, feel it is perfectly acceptable to publish images on its website without payment of any kind to the photographer concerned. This is pure exploitation. It is made worse by the fact that the BBC is such an important icon of British life. Most of us have grown up with "Auntie" and have an inherent fondness for the corporation. Yet the BBC has a stated policy of not paying for publically contributed images. Thus even important news pictures, can be freely used by the BBC, and perhaps even syndicated around the world with no payment going to the owner.

We have received a number of complaints from our members about this, many of whom consider themselves semi professionals or amateurs.

As if by way of justification, the BBC emphasises that the photographers "retains the copyrights of their images". Of course they do! And they would they retain the copyright even if the pictures were paid for. In law, a photographer automatically owns the copyright of the pictures he takes, except where he is an employee of the organisation using the pictures. The fact that the BBC introduces this red herring suggests they are feeling a little guilty about what they are doing. We are supposed to read, "the photographer still owns the copyright" and think, "oh, thats ok then, I'll submit my pictures even though I won't get paid.".

The fact is, every picture has a value. A photograph adds value wherever it is is published - be it in a magazine or on a website. It makes no difference whether it comes from an amateur or professional photographer. If a picture is worth publishing, it is worth paying for. It is as simple as that.

I`ve been approached a few (3) times about some of the pictures I have on the web.

The email usually contains the sentence:

While we offer no payment for publication, many photographers are pleased to submit their photos

After checking out the company; I send an email saying that they can use my picture as long as I receive payment for it. So far, I`ve never heard back from any of them.

So far as I know the images haven't been used but there isn't any real way of finding out about these and the other pictures I have on the web.

I`m pretty sure these people would never expect people like Parr, Furmanovsky,or McCurry to give away their images.

There are ways to protect ourselves by not publishing hi-res pictures, adding a watermark but unfortunately the only real way is not to post images on the web.

So don't be to surprised if one day you are surfing the web or walking down a high street and see a picture that looks very familiar; it may just be yours.


  1. Chris Townsend10:13 pm

    Good post. The Internet makes photo theft easier but it's always gone on. I was once surprised to find a photo of mine as the main illustration on a stand at an outdoor show. The company owner at first denied the picture was mine until I pointed out it was a self-portrait and I had the original! As well as use of the photo without paying I was also concerned that I appeared to be endorsing the product (which I'd never heard of before). I never did get payment for the picture but I did get the poster and I don't think it's been used again. I also never managed to track down exactly how the company had got it, though it appeared they had paid someone for it. It was from a slide that had been published previously. I suspect it came from the scan when the trannie was sent to a lab.

  2. I've had a number of photographs taken off my Flickr site and used in publications. To be fair, those using them have always written to tell me. But these are commercial guide books using the content for free. The company involved is developing a series of new European city guides.

    The problem was that my Creative Commons License, on Flickr, allowed this. I just didn't assume that my photos would be used commercially. I've now changed the license and I put this on any internet content that I produce now!

    I suppose it was inevitable that this would happen although the examples you site are pretty bad ones.

  3. some thoughtfull stuff - more please