Eyewitnesses armed with smartphones have contributed to enriching media reporting. However, addressing authors’ rights requirements remains a challenge in newsrooms.
Eyewitness media is any type of visual content made and shared online by people around the world which is reproduced by broadcasters, publishers, online news and creative agencies or brands. People create such content every day, every hour, every minute, capturing unexpected and amusing, important and newsworthy moments. In this way, eyewitness media is a great tool providing the journalists with easier and faster access to the events and stories that they are covering.
However, the advantages and opportunities that eyewitness media offer to journalists should not hide some key challenges.
The process of such content gathering is not an easy one. Journalists have to handle the trauma of eyewitnesses who face tragic events while being aware of the legal issues surrounding the use of such content. Many professional newsrooms today have teams of legal specialists responsible for the monitoring and verification of content shared online. Yet, much eyewitness media content is used without permission or acknowledgment of the author.
In his Journalist’s guide to copyright law and eyewitness media, Sam Dubberley states that "eyewitnesses are increasingly aware of their rights as content creators and are speaking out when they feel their rights have been violated". The author points out that it is very important not only to ask for permission to use an image or video sourced on social media by an eyewitness, but also check if the uploader actually captured the content as well as posted it in order not to use reposted content which is also a violation of copyright or authors' rights law.
Sam Dubberley reminds us about the five most frequent misconceptions that every journalist should take into account:
1. The content creator, that is the person "who pressed the button", is the authors’rights/copyright holder;
2. Social media platforms do not own content uploaded by their users, the person who clicked capture on the device does;
3. One should distinguish between ‘embedding’ and ‘scraping’:
- Embedding is ‘borrowing’ a piece of content available with the consent of the owner of the authors’ right/copyright and making it accessible on a different platform;
- Scraping is removing a piece of content from its original communication platform and running it as one’s own on the same or different platform without permission.
4. The language used by news organisations when asking for permission to use eyewitness media should not be confusing and should be transparent.
5. One should be careful applying fair use or fair dealing provisions because these concepts depend on a legal regime of one or other country having specific, important restrictions depending on jurisdictions. They also do not exist in every jurisdiction.
“Before using eye witness media, always ask permission, “says IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger. “Never overlook the intent of the person who made his or her video available on the internet. This could eventually save you a lot of money!“