Are media outlets using photo sharing sites to steal eyewitness images?

By Ryan Austin

A Poynter article released April 11 described an incident of copyright infringement following the Southwest fuselage tear. Adam Hochberg wrote how media outlets ran a photo taken by Shawna Malvini Redden without permission or compensation. The image showed the damage to the fuselage, with the sky visible through the tear. Coincidentally, the  CNN article linked above also appears to include Redden’s image without credit to Redden.

Some media outlets are using photos from Flickr and other sites without attribution. Image by Garry Knight.

According to the article, some news organizations tell their writers to run a story without proper attribution or even verification of the image. Cathaleen Curtiss, former VP of global photography at AOL, was interviewed for the Poynter article. She stated that AOL’s policy while she was employed was to publish a photo and keep it on the AOL page for up to two hours. If the photographer could not be contacted in those two hours, the photo was taken down.

This incident of copyright infringement is alarming. As a student journalist, I would be irate if a major news outlet decided to run one of my images or videos without my permission. I find it ironic that media organizations are so quick to send a cease-and-desist letter to bloggers and amateur journalists when their own photos are stolen, but jump at the chance to run an image without permission or compensation because the image relates to a “hot” news story.

AOL’s policy of publishing images first, and attributing later, is despicable. The fact that AOL attempts to contact the photographer while the photo is running on their site does not change the fact that AOL has committed copyright infringement if it runs an image without permission.

Questions on copyright and attribution for photo sharing sites were raised following the Southwest fuselage incident. Image by Dylan Ashe.

In a field where copyright is essential, it is disturbing to think that the major news outlets have no issue with stealing from amateur photographers.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you think it is okay for news organizations to take photos off of Flickr and Twitpic? What, if anything, should be done about this?

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4 responses to “Are media outlets using photo sharing sites to steal eyewitness images?

  1. I completely agree that AOL’s policy is terrible. Even more terrible that large news sources are willing to compromise values so important to news reporting such as proper attribution. If they’re going to use someone’s picture off of that person’s personal account, like Flickr or Twitter, some attribution needs to be mentioned. Even if it is just an account username, it’s more respectable than no credit at all.

  2. I had no idea this practice occurred in the professional journalism realm, and now that I do I feel very cheated. I’m shocked that major news outlets are willing to blur ethical lines in this manner, and I really think they should be exposed to the public for doing so. They’re stealing, and that’s not okay. If we can get in trouble for incorrectly attributing a photo source on our class blog, then I definitely think these news outlets should be punished as well.

  3. I think it would be amazing to expose these major news outlet scandals to the public – who would pick up the story? How would they run it? But seriously, this is very sad. Student journalists need to be able to learn from and look up to major news organizations, not ridicule them.

  4. ryanthomasaustin

    As a student, what bothers me the most is how often we are taught and lectured on the importance of citing work and giving attribution only to see those lessons be turned over by what the major news outlets are doing. It’s disturbing to say the least.

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