On the 2nd November, a storm battered Aberystwyth's promenade. Waves crashed over parked cars, stones and debris rained down on the road and it was spectacular. Naturally, Coyote and I were there with my trusty Pentax, snapping away and even taking a short video.
Always happy to help, on the following Monday I offered images from my Flickr page to a local newspaper for free; asking only that I received a credit in print. The reporter I approached seemed over the moon, calling me a 'star' and stating that they had plenty of 'after' photographs but no 'during' images, so I was chuffed that I could be of assistance!
So when the new edition of the newspaper hit the shelves on the Thursday, I went to buy a copy in the hope of seeing one or two of my photographs in print. Imagine my shock when I saw a photograph that Coyote had shared on Twitter on the front page of the Aberystwyth edition...
I took that photograph as we sat in Minty, enjoying the thrill of the storm. Coyote uploaded it immediately, wanting to share our experience with our friends. Within minutes, his phone was on overdrive with retweets, comments and favourites. We'd obviously hit on a winner! But little did we know at the time that this image would appear in at least 2 editions of The Cambrian News without permission or credit.
Disappointment soon gave way to a bitter curiosity. Could newspapers actually lift images from social media and publish them without so much as a 'please'? I immediately posed this question online, and all responses agreed that it shouldn't have happened. Some likened it to an act of piracy while others pointed out that if the tables were turned and I published something of theirs without permission, they'd come down on me like the proverbial tonne of bricks. All lights were green to let rip and unleash merry hell.
But this Roadrunner is, for her sins, a wary pessimist. There was bound to be some red tape; some loophole...some niggling legality somewhere that meant they were perfectly innocent in publishing my photograph without permission...wasn't there?
I chose to start at the beginning. That's usually a good place. I emailed The Cambrian News with my concerns:
Dear Ms Thomas;
I'm emailing you regarding a photograph that appeared on the front page and inside the 7th November Aberystwyth edition of your newspaper and, I'm told, inside another edition (please see attached).
I'm a photographer. On the night of the storm, my fiancé and I drove down to Aberystwyth with a view to taking professional photographs for publication and broadcast. In a break from capturing images with my own camera, I took the attached photograph for my fiancé on his phone, and he uploaded it to Twitter to share with our friends.
The following Monday, I offered one of your reporters high quality images for free - asking only that I was given a credit. Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to buy a copy of The Cambrian News as I do every week...and saw this photograph on the front.
At no point was permission sought to publish this photograph.
This has led me to wonder what your protocols are regarding using images found on social media. I've spoken to several journalists and newspaper reporters who stated that every effort should be made to find the original source of an image; seeking permission for publication when the source has been found.
Please clarify your procedure for publishing images found on social media. If there's a directive somewhere that means I could be surprised again by one of my snapshots appearing on a front page, I'd very much like to be aware of it.
I received a response today:
As you say, we do try to find out the source, but if we are unable to we have on occasion taken pictures from public pages when they are good images - which yours was.
I am sorry we didn't credit you on this occasion.
If you are keen to get some pictures published, I will be happy to consider images from you in the future, and to give you a credit in print.
Just out of interest, do you know which reporter you spoke to on the Monday - as I cannot find anyone who seems to remember the conversation.
Ignoring the backhanded compliments and condescending offer of future publication, it seemed that they were unable to find the original source of the photograph. Is it really that difficult to do? There was only one way to find out.
16 days have passed since that photograph was uploaded. If it was going to be difficult to find it, I'd have my work cut out for me. Ensuring I was logged out of Twitter to avoid any easy links to shared followers, I started the search...
Hmm. How would I go about finding photographs tagged with Aberystwyth? Oh, I know - I'll click the 'Photos' tab...
A tiny bit of scrolling to get past over 2 weeks' worth of images and, lo and behold, there's the photograph. Now then - I wonder who posted it? Let's click on the photo...
Hmm. That doesn't seem to be the original poster. The 'RT' at the start of the tweet gives that away. The first person mentioned doesn't seem to be the original poster either...the 'RT' after their name gives that away. But hang on a minute...who is this 'MarkTheTravel'? Better click on his profile and have a look through his timeline...
Ah, look! There's the photograph! But how do I know it's the original? Well - the amount of retweets and favourites certainly suggest it is...but let's be on the safe side and ask the poster, shall we?
Oh wait - I don't need to. Because I took it and was sat next to him when he uploaded it.
Unable to find the source? How? Not quite up to speed on how to use a computer to do a quick bit of research? They didn't even try.
Copyright legalities aside (I'm not in the mood for wading through treacle today), I'm shocked by the ease with which a photograph was lifted from social media and published in a newspaper without permission. The managing editor of the newspaper stated herself that they 'do try to find the source' when clearly, on this occasion at least, they didn't. If I could find the source of the image with a few clicks 16 days after it was uploaded, then it's glaringly obvious that no effort was made on their part.
Why didn't they try? Perhaps a photo credit is a rare, mystical thing that should be closely guarded. Perhaps their computers all broke in some mass hard drive suicide. Or perhaps they're just lazy.
This blog post isn't about rights and laws. After all; I probably haven't got a leg to stand on legally...but I can share what's happened to me. I just want this to serve as a warning to you all; photographers or not. Next time you're about to share an image on social media, be aware that it could be staring out at you from the front page of a newspaper the next time you pop out for a pint of milk.