BBC stance on Twitter pictures is at odds with their own terms and conditions

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 13 August 2011

There has been quite a fuss today about a BBC response to a complaint by Andy Mabbett. It implied that the BBC believes all material posted via Twitter is copyright-free and in the public domain:

“Twitter is a social network platform which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. The BBC is aware of copyright issues and is careful to abide by these laws.”

The BBC take a very different and explicit view of whether posting something online makes it copyright-free when it comes to their own material, as this paragraph from the terms and conditions of use of BBC Online show:

2.1.1 you may not copy, reproduce, republish, disassemble, decompile, reverse engineer, download, post, broadcast, transmit, distribute, lend, hire, sub-license, rent, perform, make a derivative work from, make available to the public, adapt, alter, edit, re-position, frame, rebrand, change or otherwise use in any way any BBC Online Services and/or BBC Content in whole or in part on your product or service or elsewhere or permit or assist any third party to do the same except to the extent permitted at law ("Restricted Acts");

2.1.2 all copyright, trade marks, design rights, patents and other intellectual property rights (registered and unregistered) in BBC Online Services and/or BBC Content shall remain vested in the BBC or its licensors; and

2.1.3 the names, images and logos identifying the BBC, its licensors or third parties and their products and services in BBC Online Services and/or BBC Content are subject to copyright, design rights and trade marks (registered and unregistered) of the BBC or any other relevant third party or licensor.

In fact, the email response would appear to suggest that you get more copyright protection if you send material directly to the BBC, rather than post it to your own social media accounts. This is how they phrase those rights:

In contributing to BBC News you agree to grant us a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide. This may include the transmission of the material by our overseas partners; these are all reputable foreign news broadcasters who are prohibited from altering the material in any way or making it available to other UK broadcasters or to the print media. (See the Terms and Conditions for the full terms of our rights.)

It's important to note, however, that you still own the copyright to everything you contribute to BBC News and that if your image and/or video is accepted, we will endeavour to publish your name alongside it on the BBC News website.

The idea that posting something online makes it freely available for re-use is a common mainstream media trope. The Daily Mail's picture editor has previously made the same claim, and the Mail has even generated stories in the past by simply plugging a search term into Flickr and ripping off the pictures returned.

It really does sometimes seem like there is one copyright rule for the media, and one for the rest of us.

I’d bet, though, that the BBC’s email was sent without reference to a lawyer, and I’ll have a blog post early next week about the mismatch between user expectations of swift, personal and expert responses to complaints to media organisations, and the ability for those organisations to deliver it in a way that scales.

3 Comments

I should add that a few BBC staff have been involved in the comments underneath Andy's blog post trying to clarify the situation - including one from BBC News Social Media Editor Chris Hamilton

Thanks, Martin,

It's interesting to note, in regard to your final paragraph, that the response wasn't particularly swift (it took seven days), wasn't good at being personal (it misquoted me and didn't address the main issue I did raise, that of attribution) and was clearly far from expert.

Incidentally, I've had to chase the BBC previously, albeit not through a formal complaint, for failing to attribute an image supplied directly to them, for free. They eventually did so by overlaying text within the image (thereby hiding the text from search engines; and creating a derivative work for which they had no licence) rather than providing the requested web link.

Thanks, Martin,

It's interesting to note, in regard to your final paragraph, that the response wasn't particularly swift (it took seven days), wasn't good at being personal (it misquoted me and didn't address the main issue I did raise, that of attribution) and was clearly far from expert.

Incidentally, I've had to chase the BBC previously, albeit not through a formal complaint, for failing to attribute an image supplied directly to them, for free. They eventually did so by overlaying text within the image (thereby hiding the text from search engines; and creating a derivative work for which they had no licence) rather than providing the requested web link.

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