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.