Can Journalists use Social Media Materials without Permission?

As the role of social media becomes more and more important nowadays, journalists may always need to use the content from social media to publish news stories. Huge debates about whether journalists can use tweets to publish story have raised since 2014. In fact, as the materials in social media are mostly in public domain, journalists do not need to get permission before using it. However, journalists should ask for the permission due to rights of privacy and copyright.

In 2014, a twitter user @steenfox raised huge debates. @steenfox asked her followers to talk about their experiences on sex harassment. After the tweets went viral on twitter, Buzzfeed published a story about these tweets but did not ask the permission from @steenfox. It ignited wide range discussion on whether journalists should ask for permission before using the materials.

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Some people suggested that journalists do not need to ask for permission as the materials in social media are in public domain. Public domain is ideas exists for the free use of the public (Pearl & Dean, 2003). Considering copyright issue, journalists do not need to ask for permission in most time. However, considering the privacy issue and ethical problems, journalists should still ask for permission before using the materials.

In Reuters’ Handbook of Journalism, it provided guidelines for journalists when reporting on the Internet and social media. The handbook stated that ‘In stories, we also must make it clear high up how we gathered the information’. Therefore, journalists should state clear the source of materials. Also, in 2013, Daily Mail used a video from a blogger named the Croydon Cyclist. The Daily Mail did contact the Cyclist to ask permission to use the video, but when they did not receive a reply they used it regardless. When Croydon Cyclist complained about the unauthorised use of the video clip, the Daily Mail’s legal team offered compensation of 1,000 GBP and settled the case. Therefore, it is important for journalists to ask for permission before using the materials as people are becoming more concern regarding the copyright now.

When deciding whether journalists should ask for permission before using the materials, privacy right is another issue to consider. In social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, users can set their profile as private so the public cannot see the content. When journalists want to use the materials in private account, they must ask for the permission and state clear the source as those contents are not supposed for public to view.

In conclusion, due to copyright, privacy issue and ethical consideration, journalists should first ask for permission from the original uploader before using the materials to publish a news story.

Reference:

  1. Specialised Guidance, Reuters’ Handbook of Journalism. 
  2. PEARL & DEAN PHIL INC. VS. SHOEMART 2013, ‘Trademark, Copyright and Patents’.
  3. SAM DUBBERLEY 2016, ‘A JOURNALIST’S GUIDE TO COPYRIGHT LAW AND EYEWITNESS MEDIA’, First Draft
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