Bashing the Beeb

Above: A moment of sweet appreciation for Peter Minshall turned out to be sour for me.

BitDepth#1049 for July 12, 2016

The moment of capitulation is recorded in a digital file. It was 11:47pm on the night of February 17, 2012 when Calypso Rose, wearing a gold tiara and yellow suit to support Machel Montano at the National Soca Monarch Finals turned around to give a signature shake of her bum to the cheering audience.

I zoomed in, and there, in a neat row of eight squares, under a calligraphic text treatment of the words “Legends of Calypso,” were six of my photographs of veteran calypsonians.

So here’s the conundrum.

Do I collar the Calypso Queen of the World as she leaves the stage, an old woman exhausted from her romp under stagelights with a man half her age to demand my right and due?

Do I call David Rudder to badger him about how the photographs I did for his veterans of calypso tour two decades ago ended up badly reproduced on the back of one of the most admirable women working in the realm of calypso?

That was also the point that I stopped the regular posts that appeared under the title “You stole my photo” on my photoblog, an attempt to replicate the bad-checque-on-the-cashier’s-glass-window technique of public shaming.

I will, from time to time, engage people who have erred on the off-chance that they might have genuinely acted in ignorance in making use of an image without seeking permission.

That usually doesn’t go particularly well, as you will discover from this online record of a 2013 chat discussion.

There are occasions, however, when it seems sensible to do a bit more than that, particularly when the infringement takes place at a media house that should know better.

I write these words fully aware of the blog posts and Facebook commentaries that accuse the newspaper I work for, along with other local daily publications, of taking photographs from online sources, usually food blogs, without asking for permission either.

The only consolation I can offer the victims of such infringements is that it happens to me too — it’s just easier for me to add it to my monthly invoice.

I can add to that sour mix the memory of that time I was banned from the compound of the Guardian for several years in the eighties for having the unprecedented temerity to demand payment for a sheet of lost slides.

Two weeks ago, the BBC posted an interview with the master Carnival artist Peter Minshall to their Outlook web presence.

Since nobody pays attention to audio files anymore, it’s become a requirement to create a video track to accompany the sound. I’d experienced this a few years ago when JuliansPromos, a DJ focused distributor of new regional music, took a photo I’d done of Destra Garcia to do exactly that.

My photo of Mr Minshall was not only used without permission for that purpose on the audio clip, it was credited to someone else entirely.

This is what I wrote to various contact points at the BBC.

I note with considerable dismay the use being made of the BBC of my copyrighted photograph of the Carnival designer Peter Minshall on Outlook.

I further note the Facebook chat conversation that Trinidad and Tobago journalist Jabari Fraser began with me on June 22, notifying me of your interest in making use of the photograph.

From this, I can deduce the following.

That you knew who the true author of the image was.

That for reasons I am unaware of, you simply chose to proceed with using the image despite having no discussion whatsoever with me about its use.

You further published the audio online as a video file using the still photo as its visual component for its full duration.  

That image has also been miscredited to Dalton Narine – who holds a limited license to use it as publicity material for his film about Mr Minshall and cannot sublicense or distribute it – despite your knowledge that he was not the author.  

I do not want the image removed.

That ship has already sailed.

All of the potential value has already been squeezed out of the photo, and I have no interest in conversations about used food, or more specifically, well-exploited content.  

Any potential value to me which might have been associated with a properly credited image has also been wrung out of an online post that’s now days old.

The BBC has significantly benefited, unfairly and in casual contravention of copyright law, from my intellectual property.  

I now expect a proposal of payment from the BBC which makes good on this injustice by fairly acknowledging the theft of my property, the value of the views and shares that the post has earned, the stripping of my right to be identified as the author and the added, damaging substitution of another creative person’s identity in its place.  

I do not want to have a discussion about this. The time for that was before a decision was made to steal my work.  

This will be my only communication with you on this matter.  

Should you and the BBC fail to respond appropriately; I must explore other options to defend my intellectual property.  

Was this arrogant and out of place? When the relative sizes of our businesses are compared, almost certainly. But I’ve found that it’s better for my bottom line to be the a**hole who fusses about his work and is generally troublesome about rights and licensing than it is to be the cool dude who’s okay with everyone taking his creative product for free.

The matter has since been settled. I did have a discussion with a producer about the matter, despite my furious promise not to. To their credit, the BBC opened a case file for the matter and I’ve been contacted my multiple persons to ensure that our mutual understanding of the conclusion of the matter is clear to everyone involved.

I cannot begin to explain how rare this is. I’ve gone, in a single week from blazing red of eye and slavering to admiring the process by which this was handled.

Am I happy? Not really. I’m mollified by apology and a pittance as I reload for future engagements.

About Mark Lyndersay

Mark Lyndersay is a writer and photographer based in Trinidad and Tobago. He writes editorial leaders for Guardian Media Limited, for whom he has written more than 1,300 since 2001, feature writing and reviews and his column, BitDepth, which has examined personal technology issues continuously over the last 20 years. As a photographer, he divides his time between commercial assignments and annual report photography and personal projects like Local Lives, which examines the backstory of life and culture in Trinidad and Tobago.

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