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Freelance photographer sues Sky News after it refuses to pay for image used in embedded Twitter message

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

Comments

4 thoughts on “Freelance photographer sues Sky News after it refuses to pay for image used in embedded Twitter message”

  1. If you put a photo into the public domain and then don’t expect to control over where, when and by who it is published.

    Mr Mitchell had the opportunity to watermark the image if he wanted to prevent its reuse. I often tweet photos from the field with no expectation that they will not be reused. If I tweet photos from my desktop and I am concerned about reuse then I watermark them before publishing them.

    Sky News has in this instance done nothing wrong. Mr Mitchell is flogging a dead horse and Sky News will have a number of defences available to them, not the least of which is the news value of the photo, fair use rules, and the fact that they removed the image when Mr Mitchell claimed ownership.

    IMO this is opportunism by Mr Mitchell and he will lose. More importantly, he deserves to lose. Mr Mitchell relinquished effective control of his photo when he gave it away to the fireys with no restrictions placed on their use of the image. Attempting to claim copyright control over a photo that was put into the public domain will have a stifling effect on the media and its ability to inform its readers of breaking news events via social media.

    We would have no hesitation in using a photo from a breaking news event that has been put into the public domain on social media without attempting to seek approval first. We would attribute the source of the image and link to the original source provided the source is available to link to.

    This sounds like opportunism to me.

    1. You use the term public Domain, but I do not think you are using it correctly.

      Just because the public can see a work doesn’t mean that it in the public domain.

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