Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content


There are two important factors when acknowledging user-generated content. First, there is the issue of crediting, which refers to the practice of naming the person who shot the footage, either onscreen, within the script, or within a caption online. Second is the issue of labeling UGC, or signposting to the audience that the pictures were not filmed by a person connected to the news outlet. Overall, there was an acknowledgement among interviewees that uploaders probably should be credited, but the realities of the newsroom mean that often they aren’t. Our analysis showed that only 16 percent of UGC included in the study had actively been given a credit by the newsrooms. We had expected that there would be a few omissions in terms of crediting, but were fairly confident most pieces of content would have some form a credit. As one editor said, “As a broadcaster we are founded on rights. We are a rights holder ourselves. We need to respect people’s rights to their materials.” So, the 16 percent was a surprise. The explanations for why this number was so low included: the pressure of output on a rolling news channel, concern about screen clutter, technical workflows, and a belief that the television audience won’t remember a credit onscreen for more than five seconds so therefore it doesn’t make sense. There were differences between TV and online output, and interviews with people who worked in the different areas demonstrated how the collaborative nature of the Web has had an impact on the mindset of people who work online. Those who have been television journalists all of their careers were much more likely to question the need for crediting.

The legal requirement to credit was mentioned very infrequently, and only by people who work in rights departments. These people are very aware that newsrooms need to credit and are terrified that in the near future an uploader will take a news organization to court for using content without credit, thereby preventing future use of UGC. Interestingly, most newsrooms are asking for permission before they use content but are not transferring the permission that has been granted into a credit. One copyright lawyer expressed real surprise at this practice, explaining that in most copyright cases that end up in court today a person will have been credited, but their permission won’t have been sought. The number of senior managers who hadn’t given crediting proper thought, and the absence of formal crediting guidelines, surprised us. Some interviewees asked us why they should be crediting content. This attitude shocked us, but was summed up very nicely by someone who works in a rights department, who described the cultural tensions that exist between legal teams and producers. “Journalists just see [our focus on copyright] as, ‘You’re stopping me. I am toiling at the coal face of truth here and you’re putting in all these things to make my life difficult.’ So there is a bit of a cultural thing there.” Our interviews revealed many anecdotes about the difficulties of getting credits onscreen due to different newsroom systems that often detach crediting information from the image. They referenced the fact that many default news templates don’t have the crediting “strap” included (meaning there isn’t an automatic prompt to remind a producer to include a credit). But as one producer concluded, all of these obstacles could be removed and improved if journalists understood this as something that was nonnegotiable, like sports rights. Overall, the broadcasters credited only 16 percent of the UGC broadcast on television during the three-week period we sampled. But this percentage is an average and hides some real differences between broadcasters.

TABLE 6: Who Added Credits to the Content?30 As these numbers demonstrate, there are clear differences by broadcaster. Fifty-three percent of the content broadcast by CNN International was credited, compared with 15 percent by euronews, and 1 percent of Al Jazeera English’s content. It should be noted that CNN International and Telesur have policies of crediting all pictures not filmed by their own cameras, so they routinely credit Reuters, AP, and Getty Images. This “habit” of crediting any external content demonstrates how newsroom culture has a significant impact on practice. In newsrooms where any type of crediting is rare, the checks required around UGC are not ingrained. Similarly, UGC content that featured on France 24’s Les Observateurs, a program dedicated to the stories that emerge from UGC, credited uploaders at the end of the program. In this segment the uploaders often feature in the program themselves, and so their names are added to the end of the show as credits alongside the producers. They are treated as partners in making the program. This form of crediting was not included in our analysis since the credit was detached from the content. As ever, statistics can sometimes hide nuance.

As the table on page 80 illustrates, BBC World only credits 9 percent of UGC on its television output, but 49 percent is credited online. Meanwhile, euronews credits 15 percent on television and 13 percent online. It is important to note that simply embedding a piece of content was not coded as a news organization adding a credit, partly because many newsrooms admitted they didn’t seek permission if they embedded content so it seemed inappropriate to consider this an active credit. There were other types of credits that appeared onscreen, beyond those added by the broadcaster. For example, some uploaders burn logos onto videos or pictures themselves. Overall, 30 percent of the content we analyzed from television had a watermarked logo burned on. This is perhaps unsurprising, as this is the practice of most Syrian activists and 45 percent of the UGC broadcast in that three-week period was about the Syria conflict. 38 pieces of UGC during this period had the watermark of a different news organization that had burned its logo on when it bought a piece of UGC. So, for example, during the broadcasts included in our sample BBC World used UGC from the Woolwich attack to report on the court case that was ongoing at the time. The credit on the picture used was The Sun newspaper, which was the news organization that had purchased the UGC. The Sun had burned in a large logo so it was guaranteed credit. FIGURE 7: BBC World Used UGC Purchased by The Sun Newspaper

In early May of 2014 the Herald Sun, a newspaper owned by News Corp, purchased images of a street brawl between Kerry Packer and his friend. So worried were they that they might not be credited by other news organizations the Herald Sun employees burned on their own watermarks in a way that caused quite a lot of discussion online.31This was not a case involving UGC, but shows how watermarking is seen as one of the only ways to ensure credit. This has, for instance, long been the practice in Pakistan where news channels regularly burn their logos onto all of their output for fear of content theft. FIGURE 8: Watermarked Pictures Published by the Herald Sun on Twitter Notably, once a news organization buys a piece of UGC, news managers were clear with us that the original uploader no longer had any right to be named. As one senior editor stated, “If you’ve bought [the pictures], then it’s our copyright, so we wouldn’t see the need for a credit.”