13 July 2005

The public eye

The media coverage of the London bombings made it clearer how much closer we are to a citizen-driven media. Thousands of photographs shown on channels all over the world were taken on mobile phones or other portable devices by people actually involved in the event. Some news sources are marking this event as the birth of the citizen reporter.

This is putting pressure on the way media outlets traditionally deal with their sources. Usually, the photographs are either taken by a member of staff, in which case the organisation automatically gains ownership of the image, or sold on a freelance basis with a handover of rights. But for this event, there was a deluge of images published on the web and sent around via email. Should the media organisations bargain with each potential freelancer for exclusive rights to their image?

Where this leads naturally is towards more open licensing. Non-exclusive rights to use and distribute are going to become more commonplace for media images. I think you'll start seeing a lot more distribution under licenses like Creative Commons. People don't want to hand over ownership of their own memories for someone's commercial gain. By contrast, licensing through more open agreements make it possible to share the memories with as many people as possible.

In the end, freedom to create and freedom to distribute are going to trump the strict "intellectual property" restrictions on content that exists today.