Wick Communications

Can I use that photo?

In Photography on 23 May 2013 at 2:53 pm

Screen Shot 2013-05-23 at 2.21.58 PM

Editors and publishers in the Discovery group had another of their terrific quarterly talks on Thursday, this one focusing on submitted photos and when it is acceptable to pilfer photos from the Internet. These are increasingly important questions as our readers take ever-more photos that are ever-more easily altered and posted onto the Internet through a dizzying variety of platforms.

  • Can you take that Facebook photo for your police blotter?
  • Should you worry about the authenticity of the photo of a tornado that was submitted by an unknown reader?
  • Are things posted on Twitter any different than those on Pinterest?

Suffice to say, we found no easy answers to any of these questions.

I have resisted the concept of a written policy dealing with submitted and Internet photos because the potential scenarios are vast. I don’t think I can boil it down to one irreducible and digestible truth.

Instead, I think these are nuanced questions that require editorial judgment. In that way, we are in luck. We have been applying this kind of logic since Ben Franklin was publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette. Here are some guideposts:

Consider the source: Do you know who took the photo? Ever used her photos before? Has she given you permission to use this one? …

Consider the motivation: Does the photographer have anything to gain by the photo? Does it present a competitor in a bad light? Is there any reason beyond interest in informing neighbors for the source to submit this photo?

Consider the story’s import: As a general rule, I would not take a photo posted to any social network. However, my opinion might change based on the nature of the story. If, god forbid, there was a triple murder or a killer tornado or a terrorist strike, I can imagine trawling through social media for photos of the bad guy or lost family. I would think long and hard about publishing such photos, but I would probably go looking.

Consider the legal ramifications: Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s free for us to pilfer. Copyright applies.

As I say, these issues resist flat statements of fact. Be careful and don’t be afraid to ask others in your newsroom, your group manager and/or me as these issues crop up.



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