Thoughts From the Bottom of My Glass: Twitpic Shuttle Photo Credit-snubbing Raises Ethical Questions

Stefanie Gordon was lucky enough to be on board a flight that briefly shared airspace with the Space Shuttle Endeavor as it took off on its final flight. She took a few photos and a short video – which have been published by various media outlets including MSNBC, CBS, ABC, The Washington Post, CNN and others.

Gordon told the media organizations that contacted her that she wanted credit for her work. In her own words:

I told every news organization that contacted me, ‘as long as you credit me and spell my name right, you can use it.

After she granted conditional permission for the use of her images and video, Gordon found that ABC News and CBS News had both used her video footage without giving her credit. It seems that they read the fine print on the Twitpic terms of service and found that they did not need to: as long as permission was granted, they were not obliged, not legally anyway, to give her credit.

Gordon expressed her frustration:

It angers me. You take the time, it’s your photo, it’s sitting on your phone … it’s frustrating to see your picture without your name on it.

Presumably NBC and CNN both read the same fine print and decided to give Gordon credit for her work. The Washington Post and The St. Petersburg Times each went a step further and paid Gordon $100 for the rights to print each photo – and the Associated Press paid $500 plus royalties for each shot. Reasonable compensation considering their respective readerships – but it was not required under the terms of service that Gordon had agreed to when using Twitpic.

It seems more of an ethical issue than a legal one – and it is one that faces bloggers on a daily basis: when to give credit and when not to. Why wouldn’t you give credit? With recent information it is usually pretty easy to find the original source; videos usually come straight from YouTube, Vimeo or another hosting service; but with pictures it is the Wild West. The fact with images is that most of the time you do not know where they have come from – the same picture might appear hundreds of times on a number of different sites. The person who took seconds to upload an image without granting credit to the original owner does not deserve credit and should not expect it.

When a picture is hosted on a site like Flickr or Twitpic, things are a little bit different. It is easier to track down the original owner; it is easier to ask permission; and it is very easy to grant whatever credit is due. If someone is an aspiring photographer that is the least you can do. It takes almost no time to give someone a link and potentially do your part to help someone earn a livelihood from their art. So why not do the right thing?

As I savor the peaty goodness of a dram of Laphroaig Quarter Cask it occurs to me that perhaps things are not quite as bad as they look – there is another viewpoint – a little less subtle than the strong, smoky libation that is burning its way through my esophagus.

It could be argued, not unreasonably, that Gordon has only herself to blame. Let’s face it, if she really cared about her intellectual property, she shouldn’t have posted it on Twitter. Make no mistake, Gordon took photographs but she is not a photographer. The quality of the photographs wasn’t great, the video was shaky – what made them popular was what they were of… she was in the right place at the right time and she had a camera on her cell phone. Don’t expect National Geographic to be beating down her door any time soon – that is not going to happen.

Gordon didn’t see the value in the images and video that she had taken until after the fact. Yes, there are usage rules for stuff from TwitPic but when you upload your photos on such a public forum you are basically throwing them into the public domain. A professional would not have done that. She uploaded her pictures because she captured a cool sight and wanted to share it with her friends and followers. She got a whole lot of attention, was thrust in the spotlight and then saw that perhaps there was value to be had from her 15 minutes.

Were ABC and CBS mean-spirited in not giving Gordon credit? Maybe, maybe not – but at the end of the day she doesn’t take pictures for a living. It isn’t affecting her bottom line, and the credit would not advance her career in any way so does it really matter? At risk of sounding mean, if she were a photographer, those shots could have hurt her career. She was lucky enough to make a little money out of some very ordinary photographs and shaky video of an extraordinary sight.

The world is a mean place, and there may be a lesson in here for Stefanie Gordon and indeed the rest of us and that is this: if you flying at the same time as a shuttle is making its final launch… hold onto your images and video until you secure a good price, terms and conditions… and whatever you do, don’t throw your intellectual property to the wolves.

[Image: Stefanie Gordon; Mashable]


About the author: C. S. Magor


C.S. Magor is the editor-in-chief and reporter at large for Uberreview and We Interrupt. He currently resides in a sleepy basin town in the Japanese countryside - where both his bank balance and the lack of space in his home are testament to his addiction to all things shiny.

Follow @csmagor on Twitter



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