There are two important factors when acknowledging user-generated content. First, there is the issue of crediting, which refers to the practice of naming the person who shot the footage, either onscreen, within the script, or within a caption online. Second is the issue of labeling UGC, or signposting to the audience that the pictures were not filmed by a person connected to the news outlet.
Overall, there was an acknowledgement among interviewees that uploaders probably should be credited, but the realities of the newsroom mean that often they aren’t. Our analysis showed that only 16 percent of UGC included in the study had actively been given a credit by the newsrooms.
We had expected that there would be a few omissions in terms of crediting, but were fairly confident most pieces of content would have some form a credit. As one editor said, “As a broadcaster we are founded on rights. We are a rights holder ourselves. We need to respect people’s rights to their materials.” So, the 16 percent was a surprise.
The explanations for why this number was so low included: the pressure of output on a rolling news channel, concern about screen clutter, technical workflows, and a belief that the television audience won’t remember a credit onscreen for more than five seconds so therefore it doesn’t make sense.
There were differences between TV and online output, and interviews with people who worked in the different areas demonstrated how the collaborative nature of the Web has had an impact on the mindset of people who work online. Those who have been television journalists all of their careers were much more likely to question the need for crediting.
The legal requirement to credit was mentioned very infrequently, and only by people who work in rights departments. These people are very aware that newsrooms need to credit and are terrified that in the near future an uploader will take a news organization to court for using content without credit, thereby preventing future use of UGC.
Interestingly, most newsrooms are asking for permission before they use content but are not transferring the permission that has been granted into a credit. One copyright lawyer expressed real surprise at this practice, explaining that in most copyright cases that end up in court today a person will have been credited, but their permission won’t have been sought.
The number of senior managers who hadn’t given crediting proper thought, and the absence of formal crediting guidelines, surprised us. Some interviewees asked us why they should be crediting content. This attitude shocked us, but was summed up very nicely by someone who works in a rights department, who described the cultural tensions that exist between legal teams and producers. “Journalists just see [our focus on copyright] as, ‘You’re stopping me. I am toiling at the coal face of truth here and you’re putting in all these things to make my life difficult.’ So there is a bit of a cultural thing there.”
Our interviews revealed many anecdotes about the difficulties of getting credits onscreen due to different newsroom systems that often detach crediting information from the image. They referenced the fact that many default news templates don’t have the crediting “strap” included (meaning there isn’t an automatic prompt to remind a producer to include a credit). But as one producer concluded, all of these obstacles could be removed and improved if journalists understood this as something that was non-negotiable, like sports rights.
Overall, the broadcasters credited only 16 percent of the UGC broadcast on television during the three-week period we sampled. But this percentage is an average and hides some real differences between broadcasters.
As these numbers demonstrate, there are clear differences by broadcaster. Fifty-three percent of the content broadcast by CNN International was credited, compared with 15 percent by euronews, and 1 percent of Al Jazeera English’s content. It should be noted that CNN International and Telesur have policies of crediting all pictures not filmed by their own cameras, so they routinely credit Reuters, AP, and Getty Images. This “habit” of crediting any external content demonstrates how newsroom culture has a significant impact on practice. In newsrooms where any type of crediting is rare, the checks required around UGC are not ingrained.
Similarly, UGC content that featured on France 24’s Les Observateurs, a program dedicated to the stories that emerge from UGC, credited uploaders at the end of the program. In this segment the uploaders often feature in the program themselves, and so their names are added to the end of the show as credits alongside the producers. They are treated as partners in making the program. This form of crediting was not included in our analysis since the credit was detached from the content. As ever, statistics can sometimes hide nuance.
As the table on page 80 illustrates, BBC World only credits 9 percent of UGC on its television output, but 49 percent is credited online. Meanwhile, euronews credits 15 percent on television and 13 percent online. It is important to note that simply embedding a piece of content was not coded as a news organization adding a credit, partly because many newsrooms admitted they didn’t seek permission if they embedded content so it seemed inappropriate to consider this an active credit.
There were other types of credits that appeared onscreen, beyond those added by the broadcaster. For example, some uploaders burn logos onto videos or pictures themselves. Overall, 30 percent of the content we analyzed from television had a watermarked logo burned on. This is perhaps unsurprising, as this is the practice of most Syrian activists and 45 percent of the UGC broadcast in that three-week period was about the Syria conflict. 38 pieces of UGC during this period had the watermark of a different news organization that had burned its logo on when it bought a piece of UGC. So, for example, during the broadcasts included in our sample BBC World used UGC from the Woolwich attack to report on the court case that was ongoing at the time. The credit on the picture used was The Sun newspaper, which was the news organization that had purchased the UGC. The Sun had burned in a large logo so it was guaranteed credit.
In early May of 2014 the Herald Sun, a newspaper owned by News Corp, purchased images of a street brawl between Kerry Packer and his friend. So worried were they that they might not be credited by other news organizations the Herald Sun employees burned on their own watermarks in a way that caused quite a lot of discussion online.31 This was not a case involving UGC, but shows how watermarking is seen as one of the only ways to ensure credit. This has, for instance, long been the practice in Pakistan where news channels regularly burn their logos onto all of their output for fear of content theft.
Notably, once a news organization buys a piece of UGC, news managers were clear with us that the original uploader no longer had any right to be named. As one senior editor stated, “If you’ve bought [the pictures], then it’s our copyright, so we wouldn’t see the need for a credit.”
Reasons for Crediting
Some of the people we interviewed were incredibly passionate about the need for crediting, and expressed surprise that it was even an issue. As one senior manager at an online news website in Asia exclaimed, “If we didn’t credit, we would get crucified.”
Certainly the law in almost all jurisdictions in which we interviewed people requires permission be sought, and if content is used, requires that it be credited if the owner so wishes. However, this legal requirement was rarely raised in any interviews. Many people did recognize, however, that most uploaders simply want attribution. One manager explained, “More people want attribution than they want paying. So many big problems could go away [if we credited properly].”
Others displayed confusion about why crediting uploaders was so different from the way their own journalists would receive a byline. “People have to be credited, just like we credit our own sources, and our own journalists, and our own programs.”
Most notable was recognition from a few people that the issue of crediting is more than simply a legal or ethical one. It plays an important role in signaling to the audience that journalists take UGC seriously. As one editor explained:
I find it very helpful to be crediting UGC because we want to encourage people to send us stuff. You have really got to make [uploaders] feel like they’re being paid back, otherwise they’re not going to come back to you. In the end, I think it’s going to get very competitive and I think you’ll have a choice about where you’re going to send your stuff. So rather than thinking you’re lucky your content is being shown on [a global broadcaster], it will be, “Who do I have a relationship with?” I think organizations need to be quite careful now.
Why are Credits Not Added?
Interviewees offered a number of explanations for why most newsrooms are not systematically crediting UGC: ignorance and confusion from journalists and uploaders about rights; reliance on the news agencies; technological barriers; the pressure of breaking news situations; concerns about the screen clutter caused by crediting; and unease about crediting certain organizations, especially within the Syrian context.
It was quite evident that many journalists and news managers don’t understand why crediting UGC is necessary and certainly don’t consider it a legal requirement. As one very senior manager declared, “We don’t credit Reuters. We don’t credit AP’s pictures, so why would we credit user-generated content when there is no requirement for us to do so? I’m not quite sure what’s the point of the credit. Is it to make somebody feel better about the fact that their material is out there?”
Someone who does training at different newsrooms shared stories of many journalists asking, “If it’s on YouTube and it’s not a private video then we can use it, right? If it has been on Facebook and it has been publicly posted, then we can use it, yes?”
Another editor explained that part of the issue here is the lack of systemized practice in terms of how UGC is used and credited, noting that every conversation with an uploader is different:
It all depends, you might phone somebody up and say, “Can we use that video from YouTube?” And they’ll say, “No problem.” We’ll ask if they need a credit, and they’ll say, “No, just use it.” The next person you call, they’ll say, “I only want [the photo] on one bulletin. I don’t want to see it anywhere else, and I need credit.” Or they may have already burnt a credit in, and they’ll say, “I don’t want you to obscure my credit.” It’s very different depending on whom you speak to.
Even when newsrooms have crediting guidelines, they aren’t what we expected. One newsroom in Europe has clear guidelines that neither usernames nor real names can be used. Instead, the policy is that UGC should all be labeled: “Source: Internet.”
Some newsrooms have formal guidelines on crediting, and others suggested that while it isn’t written down, there is an understanding of what journalists and producers should be doing. The most common answer, however, was: “I don’t honestly know whether we have guidelines.” Considering the number of pieces of content that weren’t credited, there is certainly a disconnect between what newsrooms think they should be doing, what managers think is happening, and what is actually happening.
2. Role of the Agencies
One of the standout findings from our research is how reliant newsrooms are on news agencies for discovering, verifying, and clearing the rights for using UGC. However, for many newsrooms, when a piece of UGC enters the newsroom via one of the traditional agencies or similar sources (e.g., AP, Reuters, AFP, Eurovision News Exchange) most journalists are unaware they’re working with UGC; instead, they think of it as agency “vision.” As one journalist admitted, “We always name any photo that doesn’t belong to the agencies.” Others said that any vision from an agency wouldn’t be credited as a matter of course.
Given this blind reliance, the practices of the agencies themselves regarding crediting are a crucial part of this equation. The AP always includes the name of its contents’ uploader, and any information it has about them. In the case of Syria, the AP names the activist group and describes the type of group they are, plus their affiliation. Storyful, and by extension Eurovision which uses UGC sourced from Storyful, includes mandatory crediting information. However, just because the need for onscreen crediting is spelled out on the dopesheet,32 one senior AP manager admitted, “We can’t guarantee that our clients will implement it.”
Reuters, by comparison, does not name sources. It lists the source of UGC as “social media website.” Employees explained that if they source material on the ground from a citizen journalist or accidental journalist via one of Reuters’ staff, they name them as a source because someone will have spoken to them and made a connection. But when something is sourced from the social Web, even though Reuters will have emailed the uploader to secure permission, one of the senior editors explained:
[To us] this is still a social media video. We were not present in the room with [the uploader], we have no prior relationship with that person, so all our social media videos carry “Material was obtained from a social media website…” It is a disclaimer. The source is “Social media website.” … So for Reuters, our whole reputation depends on our reporters and our camera people being on the spot or us having a close relationship with the broadcaster who was on the spot. We don’t have that with the vast majority of UGC that we use, so we can’t say that… They might write it, “Yes, I am the copyright holder. Yes, I shot it; it was quarter to four in the morning,” but they could be lying.
AFP follows this model and doesn’t provide details about the uploader. This is, therefore, one of the clearest reasons why so much of the UGC we examined as part of this project was not credited. Most broadcasters rely very heavily, and in some cases entirely, on the news agencies to supply UGC. If the uploader information is not available via two of the largest agencies, this explains why uploader information was not added onscreen.
Relying on agencies distances the newsrooms from uploaders themselves. Our hypothesis is that by communicating with someone involved in a breaking news situation, you are much more likely to think about giving them credit. When you are removed from that process, and the pictures simply look like any other vision in your gallery, the fact that it’s UGC gets lost and the related processes that should be followed get lost as well.
3. Newsroom Processes
There are many explanations why credits aren’t added, but the reality of outputting news demonstrates how difficult it currently is.
As one producer explained, “I think it’s a combination of workflow, technology, the way different bits of kit talk to each other or don’t talk to each other, and the pressure of breaking news.”
Since the digitalization of newsrooms, Media Asset Management (MAM) systems have become central to newsrooms’ workflow. They are used among other tasks to prepare rundowns, write scripts, edit video, create on-air captions and, critically here, collate and distribute metadata for content ingested by the organization as a whole. This includes UGC received in all the forms discussed above. Metadata is the text data either written by an organization to accompany its own-shot video, or distributed by an agency. This includes the storyline; a precise shot list to describe the video; information such as data and location shot; and restrictions, such as crediting requirements, time of use embargoes, and so on.
While MAMs facilitate the sharing of content across newsrooms, allowing any journalist to access, edit, and bring content to air, they have developed without additional considerations for UGC ingest. They are designed so the metadata, or dopesheet, travels with the content to journalists’ desks. This has been particularly important for organizations with a large amount of output channels, such as the BBC. However, the MAM developers have not yet found a failsafe way to ensure that metadata and restrictions—so crucial for UGC—always accompany the content.
The BBC’s MAM system, Jupiter, has a simple traffic light system to indicate to journalists what content they can and cannot use. Green indicates BBC content that is free to use across all output. Red is content that is not accessible for a variety of reasons (embargoed, etc.). Amber is content received from outside the BBC that can be used, but subject to checks. This includes all content received from the agencies, as well as UGC.
One intake editor at the BBC highlighted a piece of UGC that showed students attacking Prince Charles’ car during protests in London in 2010. He noted that any journalist who really wants to use content can do so—even if it’s marked red in the Jupiter system—admitting, “You can do as much metadata and marking [as you like], but if there’s someone really determined and they want to use that material, they can.”
Another journalist at the BBC also noted how the traffic light color disappears when transferring video from Jupiter to the BBC’s main editing system. If a producer wishes to edit a large amount of content and didn’t note restrictions before transferring a collection of packages to the BBC’s editing system, it would be impossible to know after what content carries what restriction. He noted that while experienced producers did not necessarily fall foul of this, it was an easy mistake to make for junior producers, which can lead to crediting information not being carried forward into the gallery. Another producer noted, “Even though we try and make it absolutely important so it’s flagged up in Jupiter, and it says MUST CREDIT in bold or whatever, somehow that information doesn’t travel with the video.”
Some of the people we interviewed spoke with real knowledge about how technical changes need to be made if there is any hope of practices changing. One example involved the visual templates producers choose for output:
The default [template], especially in a breaking news scenario, is to use a full-frame still, which has no room for a credit, which then tends to get used for hours. There is a template for a full-frame still, which has a space to fill in a name and location, or name and date, etc. So we could do with a rule that a producer using UGC should use this template, in the first instance, and this would then only have to be changed if someone didn’t want to be named. The same rule could apply to video, as there’s an info tab where you can fill in the “video courtesy of” field which appears on the top right of the story.
Others admitted that when you’re getting ready to edit a package, you pull down all the vision you might use into the editing software. In the final cut, you end up only using a small percentage of all the images you pulled down, but if the credits aren’t burned on at that stage, they get lost in that process as a stretched producer isn’t going to go back and search out the credits and apply them retroactively.
Some organizations have been working on this problem to assist journalists in attending to the information carried in metadata. RUV of Iceland, for instance, has been exploring ways with its developers to transport metadata and burn crediting directly into the video through its transcoders; there is awareness at the BBC that more needs to be done technically with MAM systems to help journalists avoid metadata errors.
4. Screen Clutter
The aesthetics of crediting was a recurring theme. The attitude of certain editors came up often, including this quote: “We don’t credit, it’s not
One producer explained, “A lot of senior editors don’t like the way a name under a photo looks. If the name is really long, they think it looks messy. They’ll say, ‘Can’t you just make it look short like AFP/YouTube?’ ”
Another senior manager asked whether crediting has any point when it appears and disappears so quickly from a TV screen.
Let’s say there’s 20 pictures of a helicopter crash. Do you need to label every single one of them? What would be the point of that? I don’t think [crediting] always has to happen. Even if you put “picture by Joe Bloggs,” find a member of the audience 10 seconds later who knows who took that picture.
He went on to discuss the differences between online and television viewers. Online, people can stop and take time to look at credits, but on television he offered the theory that there was little point in crediting as the credit was on screen for such a short space of time.
Audience research is clearly needed here. Very little is known about how audiences respond to the aesthetics of television broadcasts. Do onscreen credits upset the viewer? Ultimately, however, this discussion about aesthetics completely ignores the legal implications of this issue.
5. The Complexities of Syria
Certainly content from Syria caused the most discomfort in terms of crediting, even from people who were the biggest advocates of the practice. Our interviewees explained that the increasingly elaborate logos watermarked onto content uploaded by Syrian activist groups did not signify anything to the audience. However, they also felt uncomfortable spelling out the names of these groups, because their motivation for sharing these videos was clearly political.
As one journalist explained, “I wouldn’t be overly concerned about crediting activist groups in Syria in that way because the issue is, in my mind, not about credit. Basically, they are campaigning to show the world
Another agreed: “Mentioning the channel doesn’t mean anything for the audience. You can say it’s Shaam News Network; it’s not relevant anymore, because they don’t want the credits, they just want to air their video.”
How to Credit
Even when journalists want to credit, additional complications can hinder their efforts. A small percentage of uploaders are very clear that they don’t want to be credited. Sometimes this is to ensure their personal safety, particularly if they are sharing content from certain countries. Some people simply didn’t want to be named because they “just feel they’re doing a service. They’re not doing it for kudos.” It’s interesting to note that the AP has strict anonymity policies, so just because someone prefers not to be named, it doesn’t necessarily mean that AP is willing to source content as anonymous.
Most newsrooms told us they preferred to use real names, rather than usernames; some even noted some difficult cases in which people with long, slightly silly usernames had given permission for their content to be used on the proviso that their username be visible. This is sometimes reason enough for news organizations not to use UGC. Other newsrooms wanted to use usernames, admitting that doing so signaled to audiences that they were using social networks and understand how they work.
UGC used online was much more likely to be credited. Online has a culture of crediting content, and the ability to embed content directly means there is an implicit form of crediting in place even if no additional watermark or caption is added.
As the editor of a UK news website explained, “That’s the great thing about digital. It’s much more collaborative because you can embed content, you have photo expansion via Twitter embeds, that sort of thing. It actually allows you to use a lot more UGC in a much more natural way.”
As will be discussed in the following section, almost all online journalists admitted that they often didn’t seek permission for embedding a piece of content sourced from the social Web. If they wished to talk to the uploader about what they had seen in the hopes of building out a story or verifying an event, they would reach out and seek permission. But if it was simply a case of embedding a picture from Twitter or a video from YouTube, the uploader wasn’t notified. In these situations, an embed is considered a form of credit, but one that television newsrooms just couldn’t physically do.
Journalists and their managers are not considering the legal implications of not crediting UGC. Meanwhile, those working in legal and rights departments are. They are desperate for staff to realize the seriousness of the issue. As one person working in this area argued:
I think the issue is, the journalists basically think all this stuff is just bullshit. It’s just management bollocks when we try and say this stuff to them. They think we’re stifling their creativity, and they don’t understand that this could get them into hot water to such an extent that we can’t use [UGC] anymore and their creativity will be far more stifled.
Certainly in our interviews it was very rare to hear people expressing concern about not crediting uploaders. There was a sense that it is the right thing to do, but an acceptance that in the heat of breaking news, crediting is always a very low priority. There was also an acceptance that if uploaders were unhappy that they weren’t credited, or wanted payment, this could be sorted out after the event. As one former journalist admitted:
You are in a massive sausage factory, under massive time pressures, and there are fewer and fewer and fewer people to do the job… You don’t have time for anything, let alone worrying what somebody’s username is. You don’t have time to think whether you should credit their Twitter name or their real name, or who the hell they are anyway. It’s probably already in the system without the credits on it, and you just use it.
The greatest frustration about the lack of crediting from broadcasters comes from freelancers and pro-amateur photographers. During the London riots in the summer of 2011, for example, many professional photographers stepped outside their home, took pictures, and uploaded them to social networks. When news organizations used these pictures without credit, the uploaders took to blogs to express their disgust, explaining that they didn’t want payment (as it was a public service to document what had happened during that period), but they were upset they hadn’t received any attribution. Three years later, and today it is just as likely the same thing would happen.
Professional photographers understand their rights, whereas an accidental journalist may not be aware that they are entitled to a credit. It is notable that the only time copyright violation regarding a news organization distributing content sourced from social media has been tested legally, the ruling was in favor of the content creator, not the news organization publishing the content. In November of 2013, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York declared that Agence France-Presse and Getty Images had infringed the copyright of professional photographer Daniel Morel.33 This came after the agency distributed eight photographs of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 to its clients; Morel had originally distributed them via Twitpic, a service that allows users to post images to Twitter easily. A jury awarded Morel $1.22 million in damages for the infringement. Interestingly, this case was not cited in any of our interviews with news managers or senior editors.
Indeed, professional freelance photographers and citizen journalists are starting to lead the campaign for better crediting. John McHugh and Tim Pool have separately built technology that automatically watermarks photographs with a credit (Marksta and Taggly, respectively) to ensure photographs will contain a credit even if newsrooms don’t add one. Perhaps it was their intimate understanding of the news business that persuaded them to lend uploaders support, rather than try to convince newsrooms to make a culture change.
It seems that only when senior management sends signals that crediting UGC is as important as the rights restrictions placed on sports events that behavior will change. The interviews made clear that there are technical issues that impact why pictures aren’t credited. These will only be amended when the importance of crediting is highlighted.
As one producer admitted, “At the moment it’s all a bit ad hoc, so if the bosses want consistency, people really need to know that it’s something they must do, not something that’s nice to do if you remember.”30Final checks against the data included in the first phase of this report highlighted a couple of discrepancies. We apologize for that and can ensure these numbers are correct. 31 J. Guillame, “33 Hilarious Reactions to NewsCorp’s Insane Watermarking of Packer Punch-up,” BuzzFeed, 5 May 2014
32A dopesheet is metadata that agencies send to accompany a video package that describes the content of the video in written form. It includes a written shotlist, storyline, dates, restrictions on use, and crediting requirements. 33See www.hoffmanlawfirm.org/Publications/1-16-13-PRESS-RELEASE.docx, accessed 12 May 2014.