copyright infringement

What do football, copyright, and Vine have in common? A lot of money and a lot of confusion

The English Premier League kicks off tomorrow and in addition to last minute transfer news, shock managerial sackings, and managerial press conferences, copyright and broadcasting rights and the use of tablets inside Old Trafford have made headlines, too. The issue of tablets and laptops inside Old Trafford is fairly self-explanatory: Manchester United has prohibited bringing them inside the grounds owing to security reasons. The copyright issue seems to have people in more of a flap. And heavens, this isn't the first time it's happened. The Premier League has stated that it will be taking action against people who compile and share Vines of goals that they record from live broadcasts of matches. Being able to live-pause broadcasts makes this relatively straightforward technologically, but it's a breach of copyright.

This has thrown up a few interesting questions, not least from the BBC's Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, who wondered if his Google Glass recording of Brentford matches would violate copyright.

I'm fairly certain it wouldn't violate copyright, but it could well infringe on other rights. So if everyone will be please calm down, and preferably sit down, I'll explain what (I think) the situation is.


Copyright is the right to make copies of someone else's creative endeavours. When I click the shutter on my camera, I own the copyright to the image that creates. When BT Sport or Sky Sports record and broadcast a football match, they own the copyright to the broadcast. That is, the producer decides on which cameras to use and how to put together their sequence of use, which constitutes the original work. The football match itself isn't copyrightable, it's the broadcast of it that is.

As well as charging their subscribers a fee to watch the matches, BT Sport or Sky Sports can charge other broadcasters to use these images or they can keep them all theirselves. Their pictures; they decide.

When someone sitting at home on the their sofa and watching a football match compiles a Vine of the goals using pictures transmitted by BT Sport or Sky, they're violating BT Sport's or Sky's copyright. They are taking BT Sport's and Sky's work and using it without permission and without paying for it.

When you read that BT Sport and Sky Sports are complaining about their copyright being violated, this is what they mean.

Broadcast rights

When BT Sport and Sky Sports won the contracts to televise Premier League matches, they paid an excruciating sum of money for broadcast rights, or the opportunity to transmit live pictures from the game. The BBC holds the broadcast rights to highlights of the Premiership matches. They paid a fair whack for that, but not quite as much as BT Sport and Sky Sports. This season The Sun and The Times have the online rights; this is big business and it's this money, paid to the Premier League, which has made it into the financial behemoth that it is.

Turning up at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge and taking photos or video of a match would get you into a different type of trouble, therefore. If you were to try to stream the match live from your seat, you wouldn't be very popular with a gaggle of corporate lawyers for infringing on broadcast rights. Not to mention you'd likely upset the fans sitting around you if you obstructed their view. Whether or not you can take a camera into a football stadium and take some photos for personal use seems to be open to clubs' interpretation. It's worth checking what it says on the ticket. Some might be happy for you to take a photo to remind yourself of the day; others might want to throw you out for just having a camera.

I have no football photos, so have one of the Tour de France instead

Broadcast rights and copyright are different beasts, but from the same genus. You'd own the copyright to any images you were fortunate enough to make inside a stadium, because you'd made them. What you wouldn't own are the broadcast rights to let you redistribute them. Not unless you'd paid an eye-wateringly large sum of money for the privilege and you probably don't have enough kidneys for that.

Performers' rights

Back to Rory Cellan-Jones and his tweet asking about copyright violations at Brentford, someone asked if it wouldn't breach performers' rights. No. As far as I can tell, performers' rights don't extend to sporting events, at least not in the UK, so there would be no infringement there.


Now we get onto Manchester United's prohibition against tablets and laptops inside Old Trafford, which was announced earlier this week. According to officials there, the decision to ban larger devices, including iPad Minis, was made in response to security concerns. They're worried someone might want to pack a bomb into a device, much like airlines are. The ban doesn't extend to smartphones, provided that their dimensions are no larger than 15 centimetres by 10 centimetres (5.9 inches by 3.9 inches). Seeing as smartphones have not been banned and they're still capable of taking photos, we'll take this one at face value. And quite frankly, if it stops people obscuring others' view with when they're recording with the iPads, so much the better.

In conclusion

Please remember that I'm not a lawyer. I'm a writer who takes a fiendish interest in copyright and I've applied a healthy dose of common sense to its ramefications, together with a bit of research.

If you want to take photos or video at any sporting event, I suggest that you check with the stadium before you turn up with any manner of kit. You don't want to forfeit your ticket or have your gear confiscated. Speaking from experience, just go and enjoy the game. Fiddling about with electronic equipment detracts from the atmosphere and what's happening in front of you - the reason why you're there. But maybe that's for another article.

When it comes to making Vines from what you can see on TV - don't. Protecting intellectual property applies to little guys as much as it does to big guys. If we don't want them stealing our content from social media sites and using it for free, best not to infringe their copyright either.

The Disappearing Review & why I left Pixiq

Back in November 2012, I received an e-mail from the Powers that Be at Pixiq, stating that they had unpublished a post I wrote back in June of 2011, entitled 42nd Street Photo: One to Avoid, after they had received a formal complaint from the photographic retailer about the post I had written. As far as I can tell, it appears that 42nd Street Photo approached Barnes & Noble directly, requesting that the post is taken down. Pixiq's editorial director decided to fold without first discussing the matter with me, and instructed the Pixiq editors to take the post down.

Obviously, if the editorial director feels that the post was worthy of being taken down, he is probably right, but as someone who is rather passionate about copyright, and the protection thereof, I found it rather interesting that 42 Street Photo decided to use the DMCA to get my post taken down.

Of course, since I'm now back on Photocritic, I can publish whatever I like without a gag order, and the review is back where it belongs: On-line, for anyone to read.

Copyright Infringement?

This was the photograph 42nd street photo claimed was copyright infringement, as I didn't have 'permission' from them to take a screen shot.

As far as I can tell, the DMCA portion of 42 Street Photo's complaint pivoted on the fact that I had a screen shot of the 42 Street Photo included as part of my blog post:

Says 42 Street Photo: "The author has unlawfully taken a screenshot of the Web site and logo without the express written consent of the copyright holder, 42nd Street Photo."

Now, this is quite interesting, because this isn't technically a copyright infringement; It falls both under US fair use laws, and UK Fair Dealing laws: Using a screen shot in this manner would fall under both news reporting or criticism.

Of course, it is scary to receive a letter from a lawyer saying that you're accused of something under the DMCA, but does that warrant removing the whole blog post?


The other part of the complaint from 42 Street Photo is that my negative review might somehow fall under defamation legislation. That's an interesting angle to take. However, for something to be defamatory (whether it's published defamation, in which case it is known as libel, or a more transient defamation, in which case it might be slander), it has to be both malicious and false. It also, generally, has to be about a person - it is rather difficult to defame a company.

Whether my blog post was malicious is neither here nor there, but it most certainly wasn't false.

It is interesting, then, to see how a company like 42 Street Photo decided it was appropriate to turn to the law to try to get negative posts about them expunged from the internet.

Specifically, they wrote that: (...) this post is a highly subjective description of a one-time event allegedly experienced by someone other than the author (...).

'The person other than the author' in this case was my fiancee, now my wife, so the suggestion that I might not know or understand the full details of the case is quite funny.

As for 'highly subjective' — Well... Yes. Of course it is highly subjective; that is sort of what online reviews are all about.

More worryingly, however, is that they claim that the post is "libelous, tortious, harmful and/or defamatory", based specifically on quotes like “42nd Street Photo: One to avoid” (the title of my post) “Tales of dodgy behaviour and atrocious customer service” (after they went through a series of weird business practices that), and “an apparent lack of care about fraud prevention” (charges added to the order by someone who wasn't authorised to do so by the card holder).

So, what's the problem?

42nd Street Photo's lawyers were using playground bully tactics - and Pixiq let themselves be bullied.

Anyway, the worrying thing here is in two parts:

1) By equating a online user review that 42 Street Photo disapproves of as 'harmful' or 'libellous', they are in effect saying that any negative reviews are somehow illegal. I can't quite figure out what they are getting at, but I suspect that 42 Street Photo has received one too many negative reviews, and that they are now trying to do some serious damage limitation — that's the only reason I can imagine why they suddenly decided to take action on a 532-day-old blog post buried deep in the bowels of a very active website.

2) That Pixiq decides to bow to their request by removing my post.

Now, point 2 could be completely innocent (they acted before they read the request properly), mildly immoral (they are trying to get 42 Street Photo to advertise on the site, and don't want to rub them the wrong way), or deeply worrying (negative reviews of any kind are permanently banned from Pixiq, completely ruining the credibility of the site in the process).

What now?

The discussion on the above continued for a while, but I never actually got a response from Pixiq about why they decided not to stand up for one of their writers.

I should add at this point that I have been in journalism for a long time, most notably, I suppose, as the editor of We did occasionally get ourselves into some legal wrangling after we wrote something, but that's sort of the way of the world: You write something, someone takes offence, and tries to do something about it. The big difference, however, is that you'll usually find that your publisher will stand up for you: They have a large legal team on staff, and will help defend their editors and writers, if they have done their due diligence.

The fact that Pixiq decided to roll over, and pull my article without even discussing it with me was ridiculous. I'm vaguely amused with 42nd Street Photo's legal petulence, but I'm furious with Pixiq for not shrugging it off for what it was: It was a schoolyard bully squaring up to them, and they ran away without taking on a fight they knew they would win.

I don't know about you, but I think I'm better off here at Photocritic, where I can tell 42nd Street Photo what Pixiq should have said: Your request is hogwash, and the review is staying. Have a lovely week.

Further Reading


Copyright Infringement: Ignorance is no excuse.

"Hey", I see you think. "That Copyright Notice Looks Familiar..."

This morning, I caught a blogger who rather brazenly had 'borrowed' some of my articles. It isn't the first time this has happened, of course, but in this particular instance, I was particularly insulted; the blogger in question was running a thriving photography business, and had happily stuck his own copyright notice on my article.

This is part 4 in my series of articles about copyright. If you want to start at the beginning, start with What is copyright, and how do infringements harm you, then skip along to Protecting your copyright in a digital world. If you can still stand more of this sort of thing, part three in the series is Just because it's in my RSS feed, doesn’t mean you get to steal it.

Got all that? Great - let's continue with part 4 then...

In this particular case, it was even more impressive than usual - this particular blogger has a whole section on their website on copyright, which includes choice phrases like "All information and material posted on this Website are subject to copyrights" and "use (...) is expressly prohibited, unless prior written permission has been granted."

In quite a few of the recent cases of infringement I've dealt with, the 'defence' has been "I didn't know it was not allowed", or "This is for my own personal use only". I've got to say, I do feel a little bit bad about going in all guns-a-blazing, when I'm met with 'I didn't know'. On the other hand, that's not really how things work. If you are driving a car, you are expected to keep on top of changes in traffic law. If you're a doctor, you're expected to keep an eye out for which drugs you can prescribe for something. If you're a sailor, you have to learn the laws of the water. If you're in advertising, there are certain things you can't say or do to promote your product. If you're a teacher... If you're a football player... You see where I'm going with this.

As a blogger, you are a publisher.

What many people don't seem to understand fully, is that blogging is publishing. Sure, it might be that hardly anybody reads your blog. It's possible that you have your site mostly for your own use only. And it is very, very easy to remove or edit a piece of writing from a blog if anybody takes offence. Nonetheless; the activity of making something publicly available on a web site is still publishing; as the site's publisher, you're responsible for all and any content that goes live on the site.

If you're a publisher, you are liable for any laws you break in the course of your publishing activities. Including copyright infringement.

There are some edge cases here, of course. For example; a forum owner technically 'publishes' all content on a forum, but isn't necessarily legally responsible for everything posted by their members. However; if a member is consistently posting copies of articles to the forum, they might still be on rocky ground. There is at least one large forum run by police-officers, for example, that flaunts copyright law as if there is no tomorrow... Which doesn't mean that that particular forum couldn't get a particularly nasty surprise at some point in the future.

Ignorance is no excuse

The point is; if you participate in any activity, you're expected to know the laws and rules relevant to the activity you're participating in. If you don't, then - I hate to say this - tough luck. Ignorance is no excuse.

It is a shame, really; to drive a car, you have to take a licence; if you buy a house, you have to take some legal advice. On the internet, however, nobody tells you what is appropriate behaviour - and what isn't. It's extremely easy to pirate music (in fact, the embarrassing truth is that it only very recently became as easy to buy as to pirate music online - and services like Rhapsody, Spotify, Pandora and iTunes have a lot to do with that), it's still often easier to obtain movies without paying for them than to get them legally, and if you run a blog, it's very simple to get a lot of high quality content by simply taking it from other websites - like this one.

I've had enough of it, though. I'm not spending most of my life creating content that I think people will like, just to have someone else nick it and publish it on their own websites. If that's you, then the next time I find you, expect an invoice in the post.

Because ignorance is no excuse.


I have rudimentary legal training in UK media law, but my training is several years old, and you’d be insane to take legal advice from some random bloke off the internet anyway. Nothing in this post is meant as actual legal advice – talk to your solicitor, that’s what they are there for!

Further Reading

This is part of a 4-story series:

  1. What is copyright, and how do infringements harm you?
  2. Protecting your copyright in a Digital World
  3. Just because it's in my RSS feed, doesn't mean you get to steal it
  4. Ignorance is no excuse

In addition, you might enjoy Police Fail: Copyright, what is that? and Even Schools Don't Care About Copyright...

Even schools don't care about copyright

If you've been following my writings here on Pixiq and elsewhere, you'll have noticed that I have a bit of a bee under my bonnet about copyright. I've written articles about how infringing on my copyright harms me, and how me having an RSS feed here on Pixiq isn't an excuse to nick my articles.

It's something I'm passionate about, but obviously, it goes beyond that, too: I'm hoping that in the middle of all of this ranting and raving, that my fellow photographers learn something, and that the people who are infringing on copyright understand what the big deal is.

It was a dark and stormy night...

Rewind, for a moment, if you would, back to March 7th 2011. I am alerted by a piece of software I have written that there is a possible copyright infringement, and consequentially, I find a website kept by a teacher at a secondary school in Canada.

On his site, he has pasted a PDF for a photography club final assignment. Whilst I do think that was very good idea, he also copied a whole article from my site. Namely: Giving a Good Photo Critique. Whilst I'm flattered that he thinks it's a good article, I can't help but wonder: Since this is posted to a website, presumably the students have access to the internet, so just a link would suffice, right?

So, 160-something days ago, I send an e-mail to the school, including an invoice for them to pay, for unauthorised use of my content. I also sent the e-mail as a telefax, because I'm aware that e-mails sometimes get lost in school bureaucracies.

What did I expect to happen?

Following my e-mail and fax, I expected them to get back to me and apologise for using my content by mistake, and pleading with me over low school budgets etc, and a promise that it would never happen again.

In return, I would tell them that I thought copyright infringement by a secondary school is a serious matter. And then I would probably not enforce the invoice, because ultimately, any secondary school that has a photography club sounds like they are the good guys, right?

Well, it appears that isn't the case; Instead of getting a response, a whole lot of nothing happened.

A skipping record?

So, on April 9th, I sent another e-mail, this time including the principal, the teacher who copied the content, and the general information e-mail address for the school. The e-mail was met with a wall of deafening silence.

On 21 April, I sent another e-mail, this time to all of the above plus the Vice Principal, the two acting vice principals, and the person who is listed as the Accounts support staff person. Again, no reply whatsoever.

So, on May 10th, I sent them a letter (for the attention of the principal), pointing out the multiple times I had tried to contact them by e-mail, letter, and fax, which, again, was ignored.

On June 29th, I sent them yet another letter (again, with a copy by telefax), including the statement that "I trust that the lack of communication from yourselves is an oversight, and not an indication that [the school] is failing to take copyright seriously."

However, it doesn't seem that this particular secondary school gives a monkey's banana about copyright infringements: Even after sending three letters, four e-mails, and four faxes, all of which were addressed to the teacher in question and four different principals, I have heard exactly nothing back. Not a peep of apology, not a single query about my invoice, and no attempt to take the content down - it's been nearly half a year, but the PDF file in question is still on the website.

What is the message this sends to the kids?

On their own website, the school's principal writes that the school is all about Responsibility and Respect. However, I would say that not responding to eleven separate attempts to make the school aware of a copyright infringement doesn't particularly scream "respect" or, indeed, "responsibility" to me.

So, by not taking responsibility and acting in a simple matter of copyright infringement, what is the message the school is sending to their more than 1,000 students? That copyright isn't worth caring about, perhaps? Or that you don't have to deal with an issue when it crops up? Or maybe that if you ignore a problem for long enough, that it'll eventually go away?

I don't know; but I do know that I'm rather deeply unimpressed. I've already discovered that the police doesn't understand copyright, and now it turns out that schools don't really care that much either.

No wonder that a lot of us who are making a living by creating - whether it's photography or the written word - are struggling.

Finally - closure.

Soon after this article went live, the school's new principal called me, and we exchanged some e-mails. I also received an e-mail from the teacher who originally posted the material. He says he passed the invoice and complaint on, and assumed that somebody else had dealt with it, citing that the school is 'very busy' and that dealing with my complaint was 'not a high priority'.

Nonetheless, on September 12th, the school paid my invoice, and concluded the matter to everybody's satisfaction.

Just goes to show that sometimes, a little bit of public peer pressure is what it takes to be listened to.

Further Reading

This is part of a 4-story series:

  1. What is copyright, and how do infringements harm you?
  2. Protecting your copyright in a Digital World
  3. Just because it's in my RSS feed, doesn't mean you get to steal it
  4. Ignorance is no excuse

In addition, you might enjoy Police Fail: Copyright, what is that? and Even Schools Don't Care About Copyright...