Poynter recounted Shawna Malvin Redden's first-hand experience on how quickly the press can pick up material from social media websites and use it in news reporting. When her plane emergency landed in Yuma, Arizona, because of a hole in the fuselage, Redden updated her Twitter account with pictures of the damaged plane. During the two hours the passengers waited for another plane to arrive, her photos started circulating in the Internet, ending up on sites such as CNN. At least two other passengers had their photos picked up by the news media as well.
Redden's case not only illustrates how the press can get material from social media quickly and easily but also raises pertinent questions about copyrights\. According to Redden, some news organisations used her images without asking permission, and only one, Reuters, offered to pay her.
Poynter's article points out that there is little consensus in the news business on how copyright laws should be understood when dealing with photos on content-sharing websites. In an urge to get material published as quickly as possible, many online news services are willing to gamble by using photographs without permission and hoping that the photographers either will not notice or not understand that their copyright has been violated.
In general, photographers maintain the copyright to images they post on social networking sites. This copyright was confirmed in court last year as photographer Daniel Morel made a copyright claim against AFP, who had used his photos of the Haiti earthquake that he had posted on Twitter without permission. AFP defended itself by arguing that photos posted on Twitter are essentially free for the taking, but the court ruled that Morel could move ahead with his copyright claims, PaidContent reported.
However, the issue of copyright in the context of social media is a complicated matter for several interrelated reasons. One of them is the fact that the social media sites are themselves blurring the line between their functions as means of sharing personal information and real-time events. For example, Facebook launched a new site dedicated particularly to journalists last week, and during its five-year history Twitter has become inextricably linked with news reporting - a role the site has heartily embraced.
Different people are using services such as Twitter with increasingly varying intentions. On the one hand, Daniel Morel's case shows that professional photographers may use Twitter to distribute photographs professionally. On the other, Twitter played a significant role in the recent uprisings in the Arab world, as it is a powerful tool for spreading real-time information. Unlike professionals such as Morel, Rami Nakhle and Malath Aumran, who strive to tell the world of what is going on in their home country Syria, surely want their material to be as widely published as possible, free of charge.
Can social media sites find a way to satisfactorily meet both of these aims, ensuring both a free flow of information and a solid way of protecting copyright?