A mystery for Sherlock: Why won’t big media organisations pay for online photos?

BhLXvf5IIAAZvMTThis photo is copyright Samira Ahmed (@SamiraAhmedUK)

I posted some photos on Twitter on Sunday taken on a phone at a family party of a Sherlock Holmes cake, which generated a lot of interest. I’m not a professional photographer, but the images did prove very popular.

MetroUk Online contacted me almost immediately asking to use them. I agreed to let them have a single image for online use only, with copyright maintained by me, and marked as such on the article, for £30. Not a huge fee, but in the circumstances, something, and with my memory TV news fees of £30 to £60 for a single use agency image of a person was normal. And it wasn’t a high res enough photo that I could get a professional agency to handle for me.

Then the BBC America website got in touch yesterday  to say could they run a blogpost all about the cake and my photos. They wanted to embed the tweets as the captions were a big part of the story and Sherlock is “huge” in America. They said they had no money to pay but did pay agencies. In the end after consulting the wonderful folks on “Stop Working For Free”  I said not without payment and that I’d be happy to discuss it with the line manager, not least for the next time this situation arises for them and for me. In the end BBC America said they weren’t going to run a piece at all. The line manager never replied. But I learned informally, that BBC America’s legal advice was that they thought they could use my photos anyway under “fair use”. This seems outrageous.


I noticed The Poke distributed my tweet with a “via” crediting my twitter name, which I think is a bit poor (RT would be more honest, Poke) but they did link to my original tweet and crucially they didn’t post the image on their own website.

So I think there is some consensus on Twitter that you can reuse on Twitter, but using it in an original piece of work on a website is breaching copyright.

In any case, I’d welcome any views, guidance or actual guidelines that some of these organizations operate under. I’ve also contacted the NUJ about it as the freelance rates for photography and journalism don’t cover the unique nature of Twitter.  Twitter is an important profile building tool for journalists, but I fear it is the most vulnerable to exploitation.

About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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