Social Content – Sharing and Responsibility

by rishil on February 20, 2010

*Update* The Digital Economy Bill is now expected to become law within the next 6 weeks. It introduces orphan works usage rights, which – unless amended, which HMG says it will not – will allow the commercial use of any photograph whose author cannot be identified through a suitably negligent search. That is potentially about 90% of the photos on the internet. Via Copyright Action.

With the explosion of social media and User generated Content, bloggers, reporters and businesses have access to a vast inventory of content for their production efforts. Take my site for example, most of the images are sourced free from Flickr – and I am not the only one using these. A large portion of the blogging community uses images from photo sharing websites such as Flickr and Picassa to spice up their posts.  But professional news media also make use of this content – last year during the #uksnow hash tag trending period, a bunch of us uploaded Snow pics to flickr. In fact, if you google UK Snow Photos, most News sites have a collection of user submitted UK Snow photos.  Pretty cool I think.

Problem? One of Copyright and Attribution

On the 5 – 6 January 2010 they (Independent) used the Flickr API to search for and display images of snow scenes in the UK – amongst those images displayed was one of mine which is clearly marked on Flickr as “all rights reserved”. They did not seek my permission for the use of my image. I am assuming they used the API without applying a filter on the licence type, this also means that other UK photographers may have had their copyrighted work used without permission; might be worth checking if you had any refers from the Independent on those days.

This was from a photographer who was annoyed at the use. The comments thread is over 250 long, and worth checking out. In the end, the Independednt ended paying out, for something that was a simple misunderstanding of the correct use of Socially Created content. Not only did they possibly alienate some of the UK Photographic Community, but created some negative press.

What Else Can Go Wrong?

Virgin Mobile Flickr Campaign

Virgin Mobile Flickr Campaign

Photo Credit: Ian Wilson

In 2007, Virgin created a really good campaign, “Are you With Us or What?“.  The campaign used Creative Commons photos from flickr to create a number of offline adverts as well as a full blown website (no longer operational). However, using flickr photos in a negative context can upset people, no matter what the license.  There are also other considerations such as model releases and age of the models to be considered, regardless of the copyright notices issued, as Virgin in Australia found out.

Am I Being Insulted?

Am I Being Insulted?

The above is a reaction by one of the models (underage) who realised that she was on one of the campaign boards. A massive Flickr conversation arose out of that one comment. Model release is not the responsibility of the photographer, but the user according to Dan Heller.

You photographed firemen from a street saving a baby’s life from a blazing fire, and sell it to the local newspaper for front-page coverage. Later, someone at the paper decides to use it in an ad to promote itself, and someone in the photograph objects to this, then you cannot be held responsible.

If you licensed an unreleased photograph of a person in a public place to a client that said they were going to use it in a school text book, but they use the image as part of their ad campaign for the company, then you are not responsible.

Dan keeps a very detailed section of his website on Model Release, usage and the Law.

Other Social Media Outlets

Social Voting sites such as reddit are full of breaking stories and interesting ideas / opinions coming to light daily. These only add to the plethora of fresh information available to the news researcher on a deadline or for a blogger with a writer’s block.

Redditor on CNN

Redditor on CNN

(via )

Similarly, Twitter is another great place for journalists and bloggers to troll to find interesting quotes on the latest trending topics.  In fact, the BBC have taken a hardline, and told journalists that not using social media is not just an option for research. Interestingly, the 2009 BBC editorial guidelines do make a note of copyright:

Material from Social Media
7.4.8 Although material, especially pictures and videos, on third party social media and other websites where the public have ready access may be considered to have been placed in the public domain, re-use by the BBC will usually bring it to a much wider audience. We should consider the impact of our re-use, particularly when in connection with tragic or distressing events. There are also copyright considerations.

What these considerations are, arent mentioned. (side note, Econsultancy has a pretty good opinion piece on the whole BBC  / social media / reporting approach). I would like to really know what policies news media has in place for attribution for socially created content. Is it right to just rip it off just for reporting purposes? Maybe. I dont know. Am I happy for a tweet that was meant for just my followers to find its way into the press and then seen by millions? As a marketer probably. As an individual, I dont know. My tweets have been quoted by bloggers in the past, but I have always receive some sort of attribution, so I have never had a cause for concern.

Twitter Copyright

Twitter Copyright

The whole “are tweets copy protected” debate is maybe a pointelss one, but it’s content I work hard to create. (well sort of :P ) Is anyone allowed to come and rip it off? Some interesting questions and thoughts at  There is actually a way to issue a tweet license, as you can see from the image above – how legally binding that is, I dont know. See my Tweet Licence.

Of course the whole thing works the other way as well, with plenty of bloggers being sued left and right by big corporations for copyright violations. With respect to that, you may want to check out the EFF’s Blogger Rights page.

The Licences: Learn Them, Share Them

Creative Commons Licensing

Creative Commons Licensing

…each of the six main licenses offered when you choose to publish your work with a Creative Commons license. We have listed them starting with the most accommodating license type you can choose and ending with the most restrictive license type you can choose. Source: Creative Commons Licenses

Side Issues

If you are aware of the whole Autogenerated content and Black Hat industry, you will probably have come across blogs littered with youtube videos and flickr images.

Ideally, a CC license is supposed to be symbiotic. The licensor gives up certain rights to their work and the licensee, in exchange for use of the work, makes certain the original author gets due credit and is rewarded for his or her effort. Spam bloggers, however, approach the CC license in bad faith, taking as much as they can while giving as little as possible back. Source: Plagiarism Today

However, what most scrapers dont realise, is that there are / may be creative commons licenses embedded in RSS feeds, and not adhering to those could land you up in court.

Share and Enjoy:
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Rishi Lakhani is an independent Online Marketing Consultant specialising in SEO, PPC, Affiliate Marketing and Social Media. Explicitly.Me is his Blog. Google Profile

{ 1 trackback }

Link Building for Image Rich Websites |
April 9, 2010 at 11:30 am

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Luke Jones February 22, 2010 at 12:49 pm

You make an interesting point about Twitter and I agree with you. We are the people who provide Twitter with content and usually the creator of the content holds whichever licence they decide/determine.

In this case I’m not sure what it is because I haven’t read Twitter’s terms and conditions to see if it states who owns the licence…


Directory Sieve April 12, 2010 at 11:51 am

i though all contents available at twitter is a property of, i mean should’nt all comments here should be a property of

using someone’s image for ads and promotions is bad but i think we should allow images to be used under the fair use clause, given that the source is attributed properly.


rishil April 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm

thats like saying everything at is the property of facebook.


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