News organisations and images from social networks

The use of pictures from social networking sites to illustrate news stories seems to be a growing practice among news providers across the media.

Yet an internal memo from the BBC, quoted by Media Guardian, raises the ethical and legal implications of using these images:

1) context: these images are published by users for the intended audience of friends and others within their network and not for the wider world to scrutinize.

2) copyright: who owns the copyright to these images – the user or the host site? Not likely the news provider.

While Steve Herrman on the BBC’s Editors’ blog has been posting for a while on the ongoing ethical debate around this issue, many social network users may not be aware of what happens to their copyright when they submit photos to networks like Facebook and MySpace.

Facebook’s terms and conditions on user submitted content are initially rights-grabbing (the emphasis below is mine):

By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

Yet the terms go on to state:

Facebook does not assert any ownership over your User Content; rather, as between us and you, subject to the rights granted to us in these Terms, you retain full ownership of all of your User Content and any intellectual property rights or other proprietary rights associated with your User Content.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this means while the user still ‘owns’ content, such as the photos they submit, Facebook can license these images out. As such news organisations would do well to steer clear of using these images without a licence and tempting Facebook into a legal battle.

For the user, however, it comes down to trust: trust that their content won’t be licensed in this way by the social network. Shouldn’t Facebook be doing more to ensure that this doesn’t happen with or without licence, for the ethical reason stated above?

2 thoughts on “News organisations and images from social networks

  1. Emily

    BBC editorial staff have been told to be cautious over the use of photos from social networking websites, saying the practice raises a number of legal and ethical issues.

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