Engage brain before publication

It’s fair to say that these days there are far more people handling and publishing images than ever before. I’m not talking about photographers self-publishing to flickr, Facebook and the like, but those people within businesses and corporate organisations whose tasks include searching out, selecting and using images within their own publications.

This of course isn’t a problem, except that some (many? who knows) seem not to have had any kind of training for the job they’re being asked to do, and occasionally it all goes a bit wrong.

Classic examples have included a council department getting Birmingham in England mixed up with Birmingham, Alabama, USA on a council recycling leaflet in 2008. There’s some irony in the fact that 720,000 of the leaflets were distributed with the wrong Birmingham on them, but that it would have been environmentally wasteful to have them scrapped and recycled.

Another council, Dover, got its cliffs in a twist when they wanted to use a shot of the White Cliffs of Dover on their website. In an effort to find a “copyright free” photo, whatever that might be (presumably a photo taken at least 75 years ago, so black and white then), the council’s design agency plucked a lovely photo of some white cliffs from the internet and used that. The only problem being that the photo they used was of the Seven Sisters, nearly 80 miles away in another county.

Lindahls home page photo

No Turkish Delight for Greek Man – Lindahls Website.

These errors probably aren’t that serious. Silly and embarrassing, and indicative of an amateurish approach to images, but nobody died and nobody got hurt. No, the prize for borderline negligence goes to the Swedish dairy firm Lindahls Mejeri, who bought a stock image of what they thought was a Turkish man in traditional costume to use on the packaging of their Turkish Yogurt. I’m not sure if it was low-fat yogurt, but there must have been some instant weight loss when the firm discovered that the face adorning all their yogurt pots and marketing was that of a Greek man. Those of you not aware of the political faux pas in this situation,  just imagine that the feelings a Greek will have for Turkey are enough to curdle yogurt at 150 paces.

In that instance Lindahls are said to have paid an out-of-court settlement to the tune of over £500,000, such was the depth of the plaintiff’s hurt. Personally I wonder what the photographer’s caption read when he/she uploaded the image to the online stock library that sold the image onto Lindahls. Had the caption been misleading? or was it simply ignored?

And that isn’t the most serious case to have cropped up recently. In November of this year, The Guardian newspaper reported how The Independent had managed to confuse a photo of a Croatian film actor in Nazi uniform with a suspected Nazi WWII criminal Samual Kunz (oh the irony of his name!). This would be bad enough, but running the image next to the headline “Wanted for the deaths of 400,000 Jews,” this kind of error becomes serious, defamatory and potentially very expensive to settle. Take the cost of some spilt yogurt, and multiply that a few times.

I used to help run the picture desk of a regional newspaper, and was often required to find library photos of people featured in articles we were running. I was always careful about making sure I’d found the right photo of the right person, but if the story was particularly traitorous, for example reporting on the subject’s criminal activities, I would make sure I had three reasons to know that I had the right perpetrator. If I couldn’t be certain, I didn’t offer the photo for publication.

You have to wonder though if people handling images now have become too blase about the whole thing. Will it take a very high-profile case to make people a little more professional in their handling of images?

I’m going to finish on this rather tragic case of picture research gone wrong. On December 2nd 2010, this comment appeared at the end of an article on photographer Richard Mills:

hi richard


would you have a photo of a grouse . We are looking for one for a brochure on a walking route in co tipperary .



The article was an obituary for… Richard Mills.

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  • Ken of London December 15, 2010   Reply →

    I recently had a conversation with a young lady who was unaware of copyright and all its functions. I asked here what she understood as the “rules” apparently her Creative Director had told her that anything you find on the net that isn’t marked as copyright is cool and free.

    She argued with me that I was out of date and out of touch with the modern media.

    After laughing out loud I told her to get a good lawyer as she was going to need one.

    So I think I can see how any and all of what you have written about this week Tim has come to pass. You got to the heart of the matter when you said no one has any training or is given good information anymore, and it seems when you worked the desk you had set boundaries to navigate by.

    No one has these boundaries anymore because they are told there are none and any that are there can be ignored.

    My theory is this is a conspiracy developed in the back room of a pub by law society members to help create work for colleagues affected by the current austerity measures. Like I said its a theory that has no base anchored in fact, it could be I have drank too much coffee already today.


    • Glass Eye December 15, 2010   Reply →

      Oh dear, there’s a lot of it about. People get confused in that they think copyright is the right to copy. It’s more useful to think of it as the author (photographer/artist/whatever) having a vested RIGHT in every COPY. Hence “copyright”. My clients have the right to reproduce the work I sell to them, but they don’t need copyright in order to do that. I keep copyright because it allows me to have control over my work which is also an advantage to the client.

      On the other hand, the publisher, business or individual that uses a photo that isn’t theirs and they haven’t paid for will very likely be in breach of the author’s copyright, so this lady you were talking to had better make sure she doesn’t have her house as part of the assets underwriting her business or she’ll be living in a cardboard box pretty soon.

  • Megan Muse Photography December 20, 2010   Reply →

    This is fantastic as usual…. and I feel like a heel only commenting now where I am about to point out a little irony in the title itself without having first commented positively on a few previous posts (was that a really long run-on sentence?). However, when I first read the title, I was wondering who Brian was. And as I read on, I chuckle realizing that Brian is in fact the brain that is supposed to be engaged.

    Caught myself chuckling out loud.
    I love your stuff.

    • Glass Eye December 20, 2010   Reply →

      Ah, well you see I’d like to say I did it on purpose but that wouldn’t be the purest truth. So I’ve corrected it. Just goes to show what happens when you don’t have the quality controls that existed in the Good Old Days.

      Thank you, Megan, and I hope I make you chuckle in future without the benefit of knuckle-headed literals like that!

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