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Two hours is a long time in photojournalism

FOR HOW LONG is it legitimate to steal a photo? Cathaleen Curtiss, who was Vice President of global photography at AOL from 1997 to 2010, told the Poynter Institute that it was the online service's policy to take pictures of breaking news from websites such as Flickr and Twitpic and keep it on its websites for two hours while attempting to contact the photographer for permission.

A lot can happen in two hours, especially on a fast-moving story - as the case by Haitan photographer Daniel Morel against AFP and Getty - for unauthorised use of photos which appear to have been taken from Twitpic by one Lisandro Suero - demonstrates. That is now expected to go to trial in the late summer.

That case has set the stage for a lot of soul-searching by US commentators on media ethics, of which Poynter is a leading example. Ownership and credit are not the only issues. A long and thoughtful article by Jared Keller in the Atlantic Monthly discusses, also, the increased risk of news organisations, in their headlong rush to be first, being duped into disseminating what are essentially propaganda images.

"If the original source of a photograph cannot be verified, the value of content is called into question," Keller notes, quoting several publishing managers who insist they're much better than AFP appears to have been at due diligence.

The conclusion? "Never has there been a time when you needed a professional class of journalists more than right now," as Jake Naughton of the Pulitzer Center for crisis reporting told Keller.

Meanwhile, those who are careless face more complaints, and lawsuits. Janon Fisher reports for Adweek that Ken Petretti Production, the video production company whose security video of the bombing of the army recruitment office in New York's Times Square in March 2008 is wheeled out every anniversary, is suing Associated Press. That could be interesting to argue under US law, since the video was captured with little human intervention.

And Shawna Malvini Redden, whose photos of a six-foot hole that appeared, a bit worryingly, in the fuselage of a a Southwest Airlines 737 on 2 April were splashed across most media, via Twitpic, is a bit miffed that only one news organisation, Reuters, offered to pay - the princely sum of $100. On 6 April she Tweeted: "@MailOnline With this story & others: http://bit.ly/fbEjmI Reuters does not own the copyright to my photo, nor have they yet licensed it." Reuters told Poynter that they had credited her when they put the picture on the wire, but the Mail had omitted it. Watch this space.

Last modified: 15 May 2011 - © 2011 contributors
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