Sin City
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Sin City

Photos of CablePulse24’s broadcast on July 25, 2007, courtesy of Joel Charlebois.
Just before noon on July 25, 2007, Joel Charlebois caught a man, he says, breaking into his house. When Charlebois gave chase, the man fell from the second-storey deck, landing hard on the ground below and breaking his leg. As police arrived, Charlebois—an avid photographer who has a Flickr account under the name uwajedi, who is an active member of Torontoist’s Flickr Pool, and who we’ve regularly featured—took photos of the man. One shot shows him flipping off the camera, others show him clutching his leg, others show him being approached by two police officers. They’re not the best photos that Charlebois has taken, but they’ve since become the most newsworthy.
When CityTV arrived on the scene to do a story about the burglary, Charlebois says that he “refused [a reporter’s] request for an interview….[and] asked him to leave.” Charlebois did, however, say that he “had taken pictures of the perpetrator and was looking forward to posting them on [his] Flickr site”; the reporter “was interested in seeing them,” so Charlebois gave him his card, but, he says, not permission to use the shots in any way.
Charlebois uploaded the photos to Flickr, then left for Montreal later that afternoon. (He also added them to both Torontoist and BlogTO’s Flickr pools; while we chose not to run any of them, BlogTO did.) When he came back home, he was surprised to find out that the story had aired on the 6 p.m. broadcast of CityNews (on both City and CablePulse24), and, most importantly, had included the photos that he had uploaded to Flickr (above)—without permission from or credit to him.

Charlebois’s photos of the alleged burgler, as uploaded to Flickr.
Six days later, Charlebois complained to City, writing that his photos were “stolen from my Flickr site without my permission and without crediting me, for commercial use and your sole financial gain.” The Director of News Programming responded, saying that “[the reporter and cameraperson who were on the scene] clearly recall the conversations with you, and while you declined an on-camera interview, you freely provided your business card, Flickr profile information and you verbally gave permission for the use of the photograph.” The Director also noted that “Canadian copyright law recognizes that third party materials like photos may be used for the purposes of news reporting. It was in that context that we used this photo.”
Charlebois, displeased, took his case to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), and today, nine months after the complaint was filed, a majority of the National Specialty Services Panel found that City’s broadcast did indeed violate the Association of Electronic Journalists of Canada’s RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, which states that “Plagiarism is unacceptable. Broadcast journalists will strive to honour the intellectual property of others, including video and audio materials.” (The full decision is here.) The panel took particular issue with the lack of credit to Charlebois, stating that “the broadcaster knew full well the identity of the photographer whose still shots were used in the news report,” an omission that they deemed unfair, for news reporting or otherwise. (They note that the American RTNDA states that “professional electronic journalists should…clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders.”)
As a result, City must issue a rare on-air statement at least twice, during prime time, over the next ten days. That statement will follow a script set by the CBSC, stating that, in part, the news organization breached the aforementioned Code of Ethics and “included three still photographs of the injured burglar without providing any credit to the photographer, whose identity was known to the broadcaster. By failing to provide that accreditation, the broadcaster has failed to honour the intellectual property rights of the photographer.”
Charlebois is ambivalent about the decision: he told Torontoist that he’s most concerned over credit—all that he wanted—because the statement that City must read makes no mention of his name. “This announcement mentions where [City] wronged,” he told us, “but it does not set things right if they continue to withhold credit for the work.” Even if they don’t say his name, however, Charlebois does find one thing particularly rewarding: that this was the first time the CBSC has called on a panel to resolve an issue of plagiarism under the Code of Ethics, and the resulting decision sets a precedent for news organizations around the country. “These matters,” Charlebois told us, “require discussion as traditional media wrestle with the worthy opponent it is finding in alternative/online media.”