Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content


Paying for UGC isn’t new. A senior editor recounted the following story from an earlier career moment: ``I remember a ferry disaster, and I phoned up the producer and said, ‘If you can find anybody who had a video camera

on board that ship, then buy the material.’ I said, ‘You need a contract from them because otherwise we don’t own the copyright, but the contract can be written on the back of a cigarette packet.”’ And while most people reiterated that very few uploaders want payment, there was also a sense that any disputes could be cleared up after the event. As one former producer admitted, “Actually the rule has always been, ‘We’ve always paid if it’s a good enough picture, so if it comes to that we’ll pay afterwards, after the event’.” Another producer from a broadcaster in another country said that they didn’t pay as a rule, explaining honestly, “It would just become cumbersome and unworkable.” Payment also seems to be culturally dependent. While producers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe were adamant that requests for payment were rare, a producer working in Africa said, “When you do get content, it tends to be much more of a paid model where they are journalists. Even if they’re not in a steady job, they have an interest in this type of thing. It would be rare for a guy to just witness something, film it, upload it, and be happy for people to use it for free.” There are sites popping up in Africa encouraging people to photograph news events, and then offering small amounts of money for these pictures. Other journalists talked about the increasingly blurred line between citizen journalists and freelancers, and the ethical implications of that. A managing editor explained that more people are asking for money, because more licensing companies are willing to pay. He explained, “Now you’ll suddenly get, ‘Well so and so will pay me’ or ‘Somebody will pay me x.’ Well, fine, you’ll have to go to them because we won’t pay. You’re not trained, you’re not a journalist, you’re not a freelancer and you’re not someone we want to take responsibility for.”

A foreign editor also talked about the increasing number of people who are traveling to Syria and then upon return get in contact with news organizations. “They get in touch with us and say, ‘I went in somewhere, you didn’t commission us, we’re out again and here’s what we’ve got.’ Now, those are still user-generated, but they are trying to make money out of that usergenerated content.” Editors discussed their serious concern about taking this type of content because of the precedent it sets for freelancers who are putting themselves in increasingly dangerous situations.