Thursday’s post about The New York Times’ audience-submitted Instagram front page created quite a debate among journalists about the rules and ethics of user-generated content.
Many of the answers to those questions – how copyright works when a user tags a photo on Instagram, for example – are unclear and deserve future examination.
Right now, though, I want to share an update on the experience of an Instagram user whose photo was one of nine featured on the Times’ front page. Jeca Taudte, who was quoted in yesterday’s story, added additional thoughts in the comments:
As someone quoted in this story, I want to set the record straight: I uploaded my Instagram photo to the NYT website fully aware of their terms, which I could access on the upload page. I wanted them to use the photo. Nothing was stolen. They credited me accurately and as part of the submission process, they had my email. And although I was surprised they hadn’t contacted me the day they used it – it’s the NYT after all – I was not upset.
But more importantly, the NYT contacted me very early this morning Thursday, January 29 before this story ran, letting me know the photo had been featured on the front page and offering to send me copies of the paper.
That point is not included in the story, but should be. Maybe it would have been if I had known Katie was writing about this and could have alerted her. But I didn’t, because our entire interaction took place in the comments section of one of her Instagram posts that a mutual friend tagged me in.
I am very happy my photo was selected and I have no complaints about the NYT process, except perhaps that my Instagram handle and the handles of the other Instagrammers who submitted such great photos would have been included.
I also received an update from Taudte through my Instagram page.
There are a few important items to address here based on Taudte’s comment:
- It’s great that the Times contacted Taudte the day after publication, Thursday, to thank her and offer copies of the paper (and I’m assuming/hoping they contacted the other photographers, too).
- I contacted the Times on Wednesday evening asking whether users were contacted prior to publication.
- I still have not heard back from the Times’ PR representatives. I’ll continue to follow up with the NYT in hopes of getting some answers.
I’ve mentioned this a few times now – in my article and throughout various replies on social networks – but I’m happy that the Times is experimenting with user-generated content. Overall, I was thrilled to see the Instagram front page. The photos were great, and it was an appropriate way to incorporate UGC.
That said, there are a few remaining concerns and unanswered questions:
- Did all of the nine featured photographers submit their photos through the upload form, or did some of them just tag #nytsnow? If it’s the latter, did the Times obtain permission from those users before publishing their photos?
- As Tautde pointed out, everyone’s Instagram handles should have been included in the photo credits. It was difficult to find the photographers on Instagram (and I haven’t been able to determine everyone’s usernames). My suggestion: Jeca Taudte/@taudte.
- Even if users submitted through an upload form – and therefore accepted the site’s Terms of Service – are journalists still legally obligated to contact those people for permission before publishing their images in the newspaper?
- What exactly are the legal rules surrounding hashtags like #nytsnow?
The rules and ethics of user-generated content are tricky and, in many cases, it seems newsrooms are making them up as they go along.
I’m glad my article struck a nerve and hope to continue exploring these issues. If you have other questions about this case study, feel free to share them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to follow up.
Related: News University course: Copyright Law and Fair Use for Journalists