Some Good News for Photographers?

One piece of what I think it good news for photographers, particularly those who post images on line, was reported a few days back by PDN Pulse under the headline Twitter Photographer Asks Sky News to Pay Up, though the good news came in a later Twitter update.

Joe Neale only found out from friends that Sky News had used a picture he had posted on Twitter using Twitpic about a shooting at Waterloo Station without asking him.  PDN links to a fuller account on Online Journalism Blog, which gives all the details, including that Neale sent Sky an invoice for £300 plus 5% per week for the time the image remains on the Sky site.

Sky didn’t contest that the image was copyright – perhaps because fortunately Twitpic’s terms on this are crystal clear:

By uploading your photos to Twitpic you give Twitpic permission to use or distribute your photos on or affiliated sites

All images uploaded are copyright © their respective owners

and the update on 19th August from Neale, reported on both sites, was that Sky had agreed to pay up.

A second piece of possibly good news reported by Marc Vallée on the Guardian web site last Friday (and by others elsewhere) is that the UK Government Home Office have sent out a circular 012 / 2009 Photography and Counter-Terrorism legislation to the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, HM Inspector of Constabulary and the Association of Chief Police Officers (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) clarifying that anti-terrorism legislation should not be used to stop people taking photographs in public places – even where these are covered by an authorisation under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act (such as London!)

It makes clear that police should not specifically target photographers, that they should only use the power to stop and search when they reasonably suspect someone to be a terrorist – not just because they are taking photographs.

Perhaps the weakest part of the advice is on the use of Section 58a which relates to gathering information (for example by taking pictures) of “persons who are or have been at the front line of counter-terrorism operations, namely the police, the armed forces and members of the security and intelligence agencies.”

It does point out that officers must have reasonable suspicion that the information is likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism – such as might be gathering information about the person’s house, car, routes to work and other movements, but this still seems rather vague and far too open to interpretation.

I’m also unhappy about  the comment it makes about the statutory defence of reasonable excuse:

Important:Legitimate journalistic activity (such as covering a demonstration for a newspaper) is likely to constitute such an excuse. Similarly an innocent tourist or other sight-seer taking a photograph of a police officer is likely to have a reasonable excuse.

So far as journalists are concerned this appears to give police the impression that freelances are somehow less legitimate than photographers actually working for a newspaper. I also also see the phrase “eliciting, publishing or communicating” as covering a much wider range of legitimate practice – including citizen journalism and blogging.

Whether or not the circular will lead to changes on the ground is also a matter of question. When a leading police commander who has been in charge of many public order situations can show such a woeful ignorance about the UK Press Card as we saw at the NUJ Photographers Conference earlier this year – see Can Anyone Apply for an NUJ Card who has a Camera ? – I don’t hold out great hopes.

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