BBC’s derivative non-attribute licence to everything?

Photo from jcoterhals, some rights reserved.

The IP Kat has picked up on an interesting matter that has been doing the rounds on Twitter recently.

When Andy Mabbet, who blogs at, was following the BBC’s recent coverage of riots in Tottenham, he noticed that they were using photographs that were credited as simply “from Twitter”, so wrote to complain that they were not providing proper attribution.

Mr Mabbet’s complaint brought a curious (by which I mean fundamentally wrong) response:

Twitter is a social network platform which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain.

Now, this goes to the heart of a matter that is dear to anyone with an interest in promoting the principles of intellectual property law.  The idea that material available to the general public on the interent is somehow suddenly “in the public domain” is one of the most common misconceptions about the infringement of online material there is.  The prevalance of this erroneous view is only increased when eminent British institutions like the BBC come out in support of it.

Now Mr Mabbet was bemused (like the rest of us) by this response, so pressed the matter.  The BBC (hopefully suitably embarrassed) then released a follow-up statement which reads (and I may be paraphrasing somewhat):

Sometimes copyright law is a right pain.  You know, all that contacting people for permission to use their work, attributing it appropriately and giving credit to those individuals that scurry around taking great photos that we’d like to use – too much.  Gets in the way of saying the same thing over an over again on our 24 hour news channel.  So you know what?  When we think it is too much of a hassle to obey copyright law we just don’t.  Simple.

Is this any better?  I mean the statement itself does admit that the BBC’s earlier response was wrong, but is their new official line which admits that sometimes they will use a photo before obtaining permission to do so setting any better an example?

I’ll leave the last word to Merpel:

Merpel wonders if it is too late to apply the BBC’s logic to content on TV and iPlayer. After all, she thinks, television and the internet are platforms available to most people who have a TV set or computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain. If so, she would not mind recording or downloading all of the BBC’s Spooks. Merpel is aware of copyright issues and is careful to abide by these laws.