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What the Explosion of Online Snapshot Sharing Does to Photographers' Credits

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, April 11 2011

You take a picture of, say, a giant hole opening in the fuselage of your Southwest Airlines flight, post it to TwitPic, and find when you land that your work's been spread far and wide. For 'amateur' journalists, not getting credit can be frustrating. For news organizations, there can be a headache in figuring out, quickly, whether to use the shot, and who to compensate if you do. Poynter's Adam Hochberg reports.

Having the good fortune to be on a plane when it comes apart is one thing, but this question giving photos proper credit in the swirl of world events comes up a lot during protests and uprisings. It happens to me, for one, all the time. You can imagine that the people who are posting snapshots of street actions in Cairo or Chişinău or Beijing or Madison to, say, Flickr, really want those images to spread. But very often they're marked "All Rights Reserved."

Do you use it anyway, figuring that you know their intentions despite what the site says? Do you take the time to track them down? Or do you hold off, figuring that people savvy enough to spread their photos online are clever enough to set the terms on how they're doing it? Who are we to impute what someone really thinks about their copyright claims on the other side of the world?

This lack of clarity over the terms of photo sharing is a frequent enough occurrence that it seems like something either activist training groups might want to tackle or something that could be addressed through more thoughtful design of the sites that encourage sharing.