Memo to journalists: Don’t steal stuff off the Internet

Just because something’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free. I tell students this all the time, but the story of a man who posted a photo to Twitter, only to have it used by Sky News, is a good cautionary tale for journalists.

You can read the whole sad tale here courtesy of OJB, but the summary is as follows: Joe Neale had taken a picture of a shooting at Waterloo Station, and posted it on his Twitter account using Twitpic. SkyNews grabbed the pic to use on their Web site, which violates the Twitpic terms of service, which of course means that Mr. Neale is entitled to payment for the use of his picture (and possibly legal recourse if he isn’t paid — or, for that matter, even if he is, because they took it without permission).

The ironic part, of course, is that Rupert Murdoch owns Sky News. Remember how he recently announced he wants all his media properties to start charging for content? Here’s Mr. Neale’s take on this, via the aforementioned OJB:

“I think this story is interesting because it points to the dangers of social media for the citizen journalist. I’m pleased that my picture has achieved good reach but I worry that the cooption of apparently free content from twitter by big media is something that may become endemic and devalue the rights in photography. Rupert Murdoch has announced people will have to pay to access his sites from 2010, meantime he doesn’t seem to mind not paying for material and happily infringes on other people’s work.”

Mr. Neale got paid partly because he started a successful hashtag (hashmob?) to take up his case, using #skypic as a rallying point. Which wraps the whole thing up rather neatly.

But the take-away point for journalists is twofold: don’t assume content posted online is free for you to take; and get permission from users before you steal their stuff. Seems like common sense, but we know common sense ain’t that common.

(Cross-posted from my blog)

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