An amateur photographer was left ?speechless? when the BBC apparently suggested that images posted on Twitter were effectively exempt from copyright law.

Andy Mabbett had complained to the BBC about its news coverage of the recent riots in Tottenham, north London.


Twitter, the media and copyright – what’s the law?

Mabbett was unhappy that the BBC did not name the photographers behind the pictures accompanying its news reports – tagged as ?from Twitter? – and accused the corporation of possible breaches of copyright.

?You have done this with other recent news stories such as the Oslo attacks,? wrote Mabbett in an email to the BBC dated 6 August. This is not acceptable.

?In future, please give proper credit to photographers.?

But Mabbett was astonished, further, in a response he received to his complaint.

He said the BBC emailed him: ?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 issue has since prompted a response from BBC News Social Media Editor Chris Hamilton who suggests that the email Mabbett received was not the BBC?s official line.

?We?re checking out the complaint response quoted but, on the face of it, it?s wrong and isn?t the position of BBC News,? commented Hamilton in a blog posting dated 13 August.

?In fact, we make every effort to contact people, as copyright holders, who?ve taken photos we want to use in our coverage,’ added Hamilton who confirmed to Amateur Photographer (AP) the remarks he had made on the photographer’s website.

?In exceptional situations, i.e. a major news story, where there is a strong public interest in making a photo available to a wide audience, we may seek clearance after we?ve first used it.

?We want to do right by potential contributors and our audience ? it?s not in our interests to annoy them ? and this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of that.?

AP has contacted BBC News on this issue. Check back for updates.

Mabbett is an author of books about the band Pink Floyd.

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? Twitpic is one of the services that enables Twitter users to share their images.

Earlier this year the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) told us that Twitter users automatically grant Twitpic the right to sell their pictures, even though the photographer retains copyright.

In May, Twitpic founder Noah Everett was forced to apologise for ‘confusion and lack of clarity’ after Twitpic changed its terms and conditions for use of the service.

Its rules state that, by uploading content, users ‘allow us to distribute that content on and our affiliated partners’.

In a subsequent blog Everett insisted that users ‘retain all copyrights’ to their photos and videos.

An IPO spokesman told AP: ‘If people upload photos [to Twitpic] they still own copyright.’

However, he explained that, by agreeing to the terms and conditions, the user grants Twitpic the right to distribute their images, even though they keep copyright.

Twitpic’s terms state: ‘You retain all ownership rights to Content uploaded to Twitpic.’

The rules add: ‘However, by submitting Content to Twitpic, you hereby grant Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenceable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.’

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