BBC fail to attribute photo of their own building licensed under Creative Commons

The BBC launched a new site to promote their jobs in the North today. As someone working in the digital communications industry in Manchester, it’s not surprising that I visited the new website, to see what sort of things the BBC were going to be offering when they finally make their move up north.

The website links to a page describing the teams at the BBC’s existing facility in Manchester, New Broadcasting House on Oxford Road. It’s illustrated by a small thumbnail of the building at night, with the BBC sign lit-up. I couldn’t help but think I’d seen that picture before.

Not surprisingly, I had – because I’d taken the photo.

Clip of BBC Jobs North page showing unattributed image

Clip of BBC Jobs North page showing unattributed image

Sometime in January 2009, during the wave of protests about the BBC’s coverage of the situation in Gaza, I’d gone down to take photos of the protestors. I uploaded them to Flickr and, exceptionally, decided to license them under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. The license permits display, distribution and the creation of derivative work with the sole proviso that the author must be attributed.

A small price to pay for free imagery that could no doubt be used by a number of independent media who were covering the protests.

It is ironic then that the BBC – or, rather, a lazy designer/developer – simply skimmed Google Images or Flickr for ‘Creative Commons‘ images and decided to crop-and-drop the image straight into their page design, without a second thought to attributing the author. I would have even been pacified by an alt-tag that stated the origin and license of the image, but instead, it simply reads “BBC Oxford road” [sic].

The BBC is an organisation with access to vast news-gathering and photography resources and a budget to furnish most News articles with a pricey-but-pointless Getty Images thumbnail. So, why then resort to basically stealing a photograph? It turns out that this is not an isolated occurrence. Fellow photographer Adam Foster reminded me of the time they used a copyrighted image of the skyline of Birmingham in broadcast.

I’m a big supporter of the Creative Commons licensing movement, shown by my selective use of it, but I can’t help feeling extremely annoyed when someone takes a CC-licensed image and assumes that it is ‘free-to-do-anything-with’ rather than just ‘free-to-use-appropriately’. It seems the attitude of the BBC is more of the former, reinforced by their own rights-grabbing terms and conditions for sharing content (thanks Gill Moore).

I’ll be honest, it’s hardly a striking picture and not something I’d expect to ever earn anything from or see in an exhibition, but the principle of the matter is that the BBC should be far more aware of what is appropriate when using images or other media licensed using Creative Commons. Here’s a handy BBC News article introducing the concept.

Other parts of the BBC have taken a more progressive approach to Creative Commons, but it’s clear that there’s a strong need across the organisation for more training on how to use Creative Commons-licensed materials appropriately. For an organisation that so jealously circumscribes the licenses around its own material, it should make serious efforts to respect the licenses of other material it wants to use.

Through the website technical fault (!) feedback form, I have notified the BBC of this issue and I hope to receive an apology, along with attribution – but I have also asked what steps they are going to take to ensure that everyone understands the rights and responsibilities associated with using Creative Commons-licensed material. I’ll update this post as more comes in.

Have you had the BBC or other media organisation misuse your photos or other material licensed under Creative Commons? Let me know in the comments.

Update 12 January, 3pm: the image has been removed from the website, but I’ve heard nothing following my feedback form. I asked them what steps they would take to avoid this in the future.

  • BBC London used a video clip from the SE1 website without permission or attribution – I’ve spent this morning filming a piece for the BBC’s Newswatch programme that will go out this weekend about how material like this is handled by the BBC.

  • I’m not sure if it’s fair to blame the BBC necessarily. HR is no longer done in house but by an external supplier. Chances are high the web design was outsourced yet again, and the person who sourced the image doesn’t know or understand how to follow licensing agreements. In the past two months alone I’ve corrected two designers when they opined about how wonderful flickr was for sourcing images without the hassle of license agreements and rights management.

    I do not speak on behalf of the BBC, but I know, certainaly in terms of other things like software, license adherence is very very strict, and unauthorised installations quickly get “disappeared” from users’ machines.

    I’m sorry this happened. I find it pretty reprehensible when people steal images, but my gut feeling is a rogue designer, rather than the BBC are the likely culprit here.

    • Leica, in this situation, it’s always a “rogue designer”, which is why licensing should be treated more seriously by organisations. The BBC will not expect the designer to take his own photographs, so they should require as part of the work a declaration that all work is being used legitimately.

      I’ve had photos misused by journalists and it’s been a straight-forward process to get them to cough up something like £100+ for not honouring the license. I called the photo desk, proved the photo belonged to me and received a cheque a few weeks later. They’re used to it and paying the odd ton-plus every now and then suits them better than checking every photo’s provenance and license.

      • Leica – I see your point, but I agree with Jared. In any case, it seems the image has been removed – although I’ve had no word on the issue.

  • Oh, the irony. The BBC have now used two of my images on their website.

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  • Can you sue a company that used CC 2.0 / CC 3.0 licensed like BBC? Anyway what is best practice to attribute author if I want to incorporate images CC 2.0/3.0 on website as part of webdesign? (top banner and small banners on main page with added text or 2 mixed photos as a link-banner) ? Should be ok I add to the footer “On this website were used some photos from Name1 (as link to author profile) and link to his website(as he required it as attribution) and Name2 (link2) on CC 2.0(link to license) and from Name 3 (link3) on CC BY-SA 2.0 (link to licencse) ?