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Pimp My Auntie

It’s tough having to solicit for a living. Aside from the legal pitfalls there’s always the problem of dealing with those unsympathetic to one’s chosen profession. So spare a thought for Sparks57, aka Mark Coyle, editor of the BBC Scotland news website, as he goes touting for business on the mean streets of Flickr.

Mark’s or Sparks’ clever wheeze was to sign up with the photo sharing site, then attempt to persuade his new friends to hand over their work to the Beeb – for free naturally. Of course there’s nothing new in cheapskate editors scouring Flickr for freebies. And the Beeb has excelled in its pursuit of license payers for free content for its viewers’ galleries, all under the terms of an infamous contract that allows the BBC to earn money from the pictures while placing any uncomfortable legal repercussions firmly on the contributor.

But the Sparks scam has a whole new spin to it. He doesn’t just want pictures for the viewers’ gallery; nor is he asking if he can use existing material to illustrate BBC stories. He wants people to agree to give him unfettered access to all future material that might be posted on Flickr, thereby creating a constantly updated pool of images that the BBC could access at any time for free, and of course resell at a profit. A picture library for free in fact.

Okay, okay: from a professional point of view it’s scuzzy, cheap, immoral and exploitative. But really, it’s also quite brilliant, inspired even. Unfortunately most of Flickr’s puntrs didn’t see it that way. While a few fell for it – one even described the “opportunity” as an honour – most were up in arms: “criminal”, “cheap”, “outrageous”, “stupid and short sighted”, were just a few of the comments that greeted Sparks’ offer. “When the BBC allows me to watch TV for free then I will allow the use of my photos for free”, added one. Another neatly nailed the hypocrisy of the proposal: “Hi there, BBC, do you mind if I watch my images on your TV show without paying my licence fee?”

Sounding rather hurt, Sparks responded to the criticism by pointing out that, yes, the BBC do “on occasion” pay for photographs. But life’s tough at the Beeb: “we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Every penny we spend comes from the licence-fee and as a BBC editor, I have an obligation to seek the most cost-effective means of producing our output.” This is of course, as one of the Flickr correspondents pointed out, the same BBC that recently spent £2 million of licence payers’ money on a new logo.

Perhaps we’re being unfair: maybe Sparks and the Beeb aren’t engaged in a cynical attempt to rip off the people who already pay their salaries. As he says: “being a news website we work at a pretty fast pace as you can imagine and it’s good to be able to get a quick answer to a request for the use of a picture.” And he does reassure us that “we’d never just lift someone’s picture(s) without permission”.

But oh dear, what’s this then? Why, it’s a picture lifted without permission and used on the BBC Scotland news website! It’s not as if Sparks and Co couldn’t have asked. The original image had an almost indecent amount of copyright and contact information, not only in Photoshop’s File Info, but underneath it on the website where it was first published. Presumably BBC Scotland work at such a fast pace they simply can’t keep up with the number of pictures they lift without permission.

The BBC’s motto used to be “Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation”. Perhaps they need a new one to accompany their new logo: “Never Give A Flickr An Even Break”.


Here’s One We Stole Earlier: the original image complete with copyright and contact info, and as lifted and used without permission by BBC Scotland

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