A freelance photographer is suing Sky News after it used an embedded tweet containing one of his pictures in an online news story, in what could be a landmark case for the UK news industry.
Eddie Mitchell said he gave permission for a firefighter with Midhurst Fire Service to share his photo of a building fire in Bognor Regis, taken on 20 November, 2016, via the station’s Twitter account.
Sky News embedded the tweet containing the photograph in a story about Storm Angus, but Mitchell said they did not contact him for permission to use the image beforehand. The tweet has since been removed.
Mitchell, who has worked as a freelance photographer for 17 years, has taken the matter to Worthing County Court after the broadcaster refused to pay him for its use.
In a letter to the court, Mitchell said: “I attend breaking news stories across the county of Sussex as my role as a full time bonafide news-gatherer. I pass on my pictures to the emergency services for no fee as I respect all the work they all do.
“In this case one of the firefighters asked if he could tweet a picture of mine I said yes, he did, and this is the picture that Sky News embedded on their website, for their own gain, in respect of web hits.
“They did not make any attempt via social media or the services 24/7 control to ask permission to use the said picture/tweet, Sky News took it for granted that all crown pictures are free to use and therefore did.
“If they had asked West Sussex Fire and Rescue control or firefighter who tweeted it, they would have told it was not their copyright to grant such use.”
A Sky News representative told Mitchell the broadcaster has “very strict policies and always seek permission when necessary” for using pictures from Twitter.
“On this occasion, an official Twitter feed of an emergency service put out a picture on the premise that it was theirs,” they said.
“When you kindly informed us that it was not the case, and the picture in fact belonged to you – it was removed with immediate effect. We see that you have flagged this up to other outlets, who would also have assumed the picture belonged to the fire service.”
Lawyers for Sky News said in a letter to Mitchell: “The tweet was embedded by Sky News in good faith on the understanding that it was available with consent. Therefore, the embedding of a link to the tweet does not constitute an infringement of your rights.”
A Sky News spokesperson told Press Gazette: “We believe we have acted in good faith at all times and await the decision of the court.”
Embedding tweets is a common practice among online news publications and is actively encouraged by Twitter.
Picture: Eddie Mitchell reproduced with consent