On Saturday, the Straits Times published a photo I took without my permission, and without attribution. I understand the difficulties of being an established paper with its institutional shackles and public expectation, while having to be as nimble as blogs written by folks in their pajamas. I’ll admit that I was initially angry, but that I’ve gotten over it, and would like to provide the Straits Times some feedback so they can put together some standard operating procedures to guard against the abuse of online content.
I urge you not to take to arms, but set your minds to work collaboratively so that we all come out on top — there’s too much online bashing going on as it is. Let’s make this conversation different.
An exchange with Picture Editor Stephanie Yeow over at the Straits Times. I have informed her that I would put this online as a matter of public record.
March 9th, 5:49pm
When I saw my photo used in today’s print edition of the Straits Times today, it confirmed my belief that there is a systemic problem within SPH. I have had many friends who have had their online content used by ST without their consent, and today I got to see first-hand how it happens.
I took this photo while on the way to work on Friday and posted it on my Instagram and Facebook account.
When Priscilla called to find out more about the accident, there was no mention that my photo would be used, and no permission was sought. She has apologised to me, and I take her word that she is new and might not be familiar with the process, and that your unit might have mistakenly put up my photo in place of another submitted on STOMP.
So I hope you’ll understand my resentment when I found that my photo had been posted on STOMP, contributed by “the STOMP team”.
All I can say is that this is a straightforward case of intelllectual property theft from an organisation that ought to know better. I believe in the openness of the Internet and have contributed a significant amount of content via Creative Commons licenses. SPH is a for-profit company that cannot beat on the intellectual property drum with one hand, and use online content without attribution or proper compensation whenever it feels like it.
This is gone on for far too long, and I am appalled at the lack of ethics. You had my name, my number, and I entertained more than a handful of calls to provide information for the story.
We need a higher standard of journalism in this country.
I will be putting this online as a matter of record, and will include any subsequent replies (if any) to provide your side of the story as well.
March 10th, 4:06pm
Thank you for your email. My apologies to have caused you distress over this. It is never the intention of The Straits Times/SPH to use any story or photo without consent. We try to maintain a high level of credibility and we definitely try to protect the interests of our fellow photographers.
We picked up your photo from STOMP, our citizen journalism website. Contributors to STOMP know that once they contribute material to us, that material is subject to usage in print and in any other SPH product without further permission from the contributor nor compensation. However, I realise from your email that you did not contribute your photo to STOMP.
So let me investigate further how this happened and get back to you. In the meantime, we do sometimes pay for photos that readers contribute to us and would like to offer you a fee for using your photo, if you wish to be paid.
I will get back to you on a more detailed explanation on how this happened. In the meantime, your patience and understanding is appreciated. Do let me know about the payment.
Thank you and regards, Stephanie
March 10th, 10:45pm
Thank you for your reply.
It is not my intention to extort any form of payment from ST, but my main priority is to point out that something is wrong with your policies. It is not uncommon to see ST attributing photos to “Facebook” or “Twitter”, which is extremely slip-shod journalism and unbecoming of a flagship paper.
The STOMP post that had the photo I took was attributed to “the STOMP team”, which I assumed was from ST. I know that STOMP takes in reader contributions, and its terms and conditions allow for content to be reused across SPH properties, but STOMP should under no circumstance function as a clearinghouse to launder intellectual property of their copyright.
It is important to get your processes in place so that ST can evolve to utilise the power of new media without losing the ethics of established journalism.
I look forward to hearing the results of your investigation. Please go easy on the personnel involved. Like I said, it is a systemic problem, and not the fault of errant individuals. I hope that my feedback helps you guys set some SOPs in place.
12th March. Just to update: Ignatius Low, an editor with the Straits Times, called me up this afternoon and apologised for using the photo. The explanation, as expected, was that they used the photo which was submitted on STOMP. I told him that their processes needed work, and allowing anonymous contributions on STOMP wasn’t really cutting it. To put it bluntly, I can’t rule out staff from the Straits Times pushing content through STOMP just so they can use it. Ignatius assured that they would do more to seek out original owners of content they intend to use.
I’m not ecstatic at the response, and it would have been nice to see an effort to overhaul STOMP’s submission process; by closing the loophole of anonymous contributions and adding in some checks and balances. (Would have been great if they shut down STOMP entirely, but that’d be way too optimistic).
So to Ignatius, and other Straits Times staff, I know you guys want to do good, honest work, and I want to believe that we can yet have a great newspaper. But every time I see a photo attributed to “Twitter” or “Facebook”, I lose that feeling. I’m hanging on to the belief, but only by a thread.