Images posted on Twitter hold the same copyright protection as any other photograph and unauthorised use can lead to legal action, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has warned.
The IPO outlined the legal position to Amateur Photographer (AP) as two major news organisations this week stand accused of breaching photographic copyright by grabbing images from Twitter to accompany news reports.
The latest involves amateur photographer Alice Taylor who says she refused to allow the Daily Mail website to use two pictures she had taken of a shop on Oxford Street for a news piece published on 15 August.
And earlier this week the BBC admitted that, at times, it will use Twitter images without first seeking the photographer?s permission.
Speaking in response to such practices, in general terms, an IPO spokesman said the same copyright rules apply to images posted on Twitter.
The spokesman told AP: ‘It is advisable to assume that every image on the web belongs to someone and using it without permission will be an infringement of the owner’s rights.’
He added: ‘Use of copyright-protected work without the owner’s permission is most likely to lead to civil infringements. This can result in damages being paid to the owner.’
Alice Taylor said the Daily Mail?s website had emailed her asking to use pictures she had taken for an article about high-street shops and an ?anorexic-looking mannequin?.
Alice said she emailed the paper?s picture desk to say: ?I can?t give the Daily Mail permission to use these pictures commercially, for free.
?I am happy to licence the Daily Mail a commercial usage if it donates a standard picture fee (£250+) to a charity of my choice, however.?
In her blog, Alice said Mail Online replied that this level of fee exceeded its budget.
Alice then thanked Mail Online for its interest in her images but emailed the picture desk to say: ?Oh well, it?s a no then.?
It seems that, despite this refusal, the paper went ahead with publication, though it credited the photographer?s Twitter name (@wonderlandblog), and Twitter, alongside her photos.
[NEWS UPDATE] Speaking this evening, a spokesman for MailOnline told us: ‘The pictures were published in error due to a breakdown in internal communications.
‘We regret the error and have now settled the matter amicably with the photographer.’
In a separate case, the BBC issued a policy statement just hours after Amateur Photographer reported how a photographer was left ‘speechless’ when the BBC apparently suggested that images posted on Twitter were effectively exempt from copyright law.
Andy Mabbett had complained to the BBC about its news coverage of the recent riots in Tottenham, north London.
In a statement released on Monday, BBC News Social Media Editor Chris Hamilton wrote on The Editors blog page: ?In terms of permission and attribution, we make every effort to contact people who?ve taken photos we want to use in our coverage and ask for their permission before doing so.
?However, in exceptional situations, where there is a strong public interest and often time constraints, such as a major news story like the recent Norway attacks or rioting in England, we may use a photo before we?ve cleared it.
?We don?t make this decision lightly ? a senior editor has to judge that there is indeed a strong public interest in making a photo available to a wide audience.?