Wide availability of photographs is straining copyright laws to the maximum.

The Canberra Times has joined a raft of other newspapers ignoring copyright restrictions on photographs as photo galleries become more common.

Earlier this week I asked the Canberra Times if it had obtained permission from the photographers whose Flickr photos the paper had used in a photo gallery of the recent lunar eclipse.

The Canberra Times has not offered a response apart from a tweet that said “been told usage ok b4 by an editor, but will take down to check”. At time of writing the eclipse photo gallery that was taken down has since been reinstated It still contains photos sourced from Flickr that have a Creative Commons noncommercial license. (Clarification: the photo gallery has been removed  - see comment below).


Respected American Journalist Danny Sullivan documented his experience of mainstream media organisations using his story and image without attribution in an article titled “How The Mainstream Media Stole Our News Story Without Credit”  with subheadings including “I’ll Steal Your Image, But I Won’t Link To You” and “We’ll Cite You, But Not Link To You”.

Unfortunately this is not a rare occurrence as examples abound of major news organisations around the world being accused of using photos and/or videos taken by citizen journalists without permission or offering payment including: The Daily Mail , The Independent, Agence France Press, The Sydney Morning Herald ,  The Age and News Limited , BBC, US based TV networks ABC News and CBS News as well as CNET.

We contacted a random sample of photographers on Flickr whose photos have been used in two photo galleries on the Canberra Times website: “Lunar eclipse photos around the world”   and “Bond's best: the greatest 007 locations”.

All the contacted photographers had clearly marked their photos on Flickr as being made available under a Creative Commons noncommercial license  which precludes use of a work “in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation”.

 Norwegian photographer Sigurd R told us that the Canberra Times did not ask for permission to use his lunar eclipse photo.

Sigurd was surprised that his photo had been used by a media organisation without his knowledge. “Most people are not aware of licensing issues when they find photos online, but one should expect a newspaper would do this right. If they'd contacted me at least, I might have given permission - or requested them to licence the image under Getty,” he said.

He also emphasised that he was disappointed the clear message on his Flickr profile had been ignored. The profile states: "Under no circumstance use my photos for commercial stuff without permission. If you get paid, so should I. Camera stuff cost money. Respect the CC license!".

British photographer David Hulme was shocked when he found out that his photo of Himeji Castle had been used by the Canberra Times in its James Bond 007 gallery.

Hulme made it clear that the Canberra Times did not get his permission. “I've had a few images published by various journals over that last few years and all of them (that I know of) have asked for my permission,” Hulme said.

Mike Bowers is an accomplished freelance photographer, regular commentator on ABC Radio and host of Talking Pictures on Insiders which airs on ABC TV.

Bowers says it’s a terrible indictment that media organisations today employ people who have no idea of copyright laws. “Not being aware of the law or relying on an OK from those higher in the heirarachy is no defence. On one hand media organisations respect the copyright and moral rights of staff photographers but citizen journalists whose photos get used usually don’t get the respect or payment they deserve.”

He continued by pointing out that the media were making a rod for their own back by misusing photos sourced from enthusiast photographer’s online photo galleries as this practice is collapsing the price of editorial news photos. “In the short term it saves cash strapped media organisations money but in the long term it damages the entire news media as it reduces chances for the next generation of photojournalists to become better at their trade and earn a living.”

An academic article by QUT students Carroll, Emma F. & Coates, Jessica M titled “The school girl, the Virgin and the billboard” details a case in the District Court of Amsterdam about the misuse of Creative Commons licenced photos by the magazine publisher Audax in which the Court held that the Creative Commons licence under which the photographs had been made available was valid and that Audax’s publication of the photographs in a commercial magazine was clearly in breach of the licence.

An Australian lawyer with expertise in the field of Creative Commons, who declined to be named, said that it is beyond reasonable doubt that if an Australian commercial media organisation used Creative Commons Non Commercial licenced photos on its website without permission from the creator/s it would be in breach of copyright.

The lawyer also said that in such a hypothetical situation copyright law had been broken whether or not the commercial news website had advertising on the photo page or not, and also stated that the longer photos stay published in breach of copyright and the more of them there are, the greater the compounded breach of copyright law.

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