Boats on fire and citizen journalism

This photo of a boat fire was taken by me and published in print and online by the Southern Daily Echo on 14th February 2007:

Southern Daily Echo boat fire photo by Adrian Spender

This photo was taken by Elfar Ingvarsson and appeared on the BBC News website on 21st May 2007.

Cutty Sark on fire from BBC news, submitted by Elfar Ingvarsson

My one shows a fire onboard a small yacht in a provincial marina. Elfar’s shows the destruction of a national landmark. I got paid £30 for my photo, and I am betting that Elfar didn’t.

Some statistics for you:

The Southern Daily Echo has a total circulation of 40461 for the print edition (Source: The Newspaper Society) and the web site has an Alexa traffic rank of 146,3173 (Source: Alexa 3 month average traffic rank)

BBC News is the largest and most visited web site in the UK, serving 3 million users and 24 million page impressions per day. It’s Alexa traffic rank is 33 (Source).

Naturally then, you would hope and assume that Elfar would receive reasonable compensation for his dramatic photo. However, the BBC is perhaps one of the worst exploiters of citizen journalists in this respect. If you read the lead Cutty Sark story early this morning, you’d have seen the form at the bottom of the page allowing you to send in your photos and video. You could even send it in directly from your mobile via MMS or 3G. The BBC expects you to be happy with your name on a credit (if you are lucky) for the privilege of giving them your work. Even if you missed the form (it has now been taken off) you can go to the Have Your Say page to find out how you can altruistically donate your photos and video. If you then go and read the T&Cs, the shortened version of which reads:

f you submit an image, you do so in accordance with the BBC’s Terms and Conditions.

In contributing to BBC News you agree to grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide. This may include the transmission of the material by our overseas partners; these are all reputable foreign news broadcasters who are prohibited from altering the material in any way or making it available to other UK broadcasters or to the print media. (See the Terms and Conditions for the full terms of our rights.)

It’s important to note, however, that you still own the copyright to everything you contribute to BBC News and that if your image and/or video is accepted, we will endeavour to publish your name alongside it on the BBC News website. Please note that due to operational reasons this accreditation will probably not be possible with video. The BBC cannot guarantee that all pictures and/or video will be used and we reserve the right to edit your comments.

At no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws.

So, the BBC can, for no money at all to you, use your photo or video in perpetuity across any media they wish (that means you can get international TV airtime as well, lucky you) Oh, and they can syndicate it as well. At least they let you retain copyright.

So, for being in the right place at the right time, Elfar is lucky enough to get a byline which he can screencap and show his family. Meanwhile, imagine if there happened to be a professional photojournalist hanging around Greenwich early this morning. How much has the value of his shots, which he sent up to various agencies, been devalued by the work of a few people with camera phones, and how many sales has he lost? Where would the BBC have been forced to buy a photo from is Elfar (and others) hadn’t been so generous.

I’m not going to go through the arguments for and against citizen journalism in more detail, suffice to say that it is only fair that news organizations start to treat members of the public fairly and equitably for the material we provide them. It should be their responsibility to inform contributors of the fact that by donating their photo/video they are potentially losing the ability to make money from it. I’ve added the following button to my site which links to the Editorial Photographers UK campaign for Fair Play for Citizen Journalists, and I suggest that you head over there to read about the issue in more detail.

I support the EPUK FP4CJ Campaign

P.S. Elfar – if you read this, maybe next time you might want to look at submitting your photo to somewhere like Scoopt, who will help you realise it’s value. The fact that have been bought up by Getty Images, about the largest picture agency/archive out there should give you confidence.

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