BBC uses copyright image from Flickr for News 24

February 10th, 2009 72 Comments By Paul Smith

The BBC broadcasts thousands of hours of content every year, across analogue and digital platforms, and is ferocious in protecting its material from being used or copied without permission by third parties – licence fee payers, for example.

When members of a Google Group discussed ways to remove Digital Rights Management from BBC shows during early trials of the iPlayer, the BBC threatened Google with an injunction. Unofficial fan sites for BBC shows have been closed down in the past, even knitting patterns based on Doctor Who characters have been dealt with in an impersonal and non-nonsense manner:

picture 22 BBC uses copyright image from Flickr for News 24

It’s crystal clear what the BBC’s policy is concerning infringement of copyright, so it’s slightly embarrassing when the corporation is then caught with its own hand in the cookie jar. In this instance, the cookie jar is Flickr, and the delicious cookie is an image of Birmingham’s skyline, taken by Bitterwallet reader Michael Bailey:

2649168967 c69f0999912 BBC uses copyright image from Flickr for News 24

The image was clearly marked All Rights Reserved on Flickr, requiring any usage to be agreed in advance. So Bailey wasn’t best pleased to be watching News 24 one evening in December, and recognise the “live” backdrop of Birmingham city centre:

3120642216 9f68c212822 BBC uses copyright image from Flickr for News 24

Bailey contacted the BBC to ask what the blithering hell they were playing at. With not even a stump to stand on, the BBC admitted the fault (all the time referring to some previously unknown website called Flikr), while offering to pay Bailey a nominal amount and insist he stop bad-mouthing the organisation:

I write in response to your recent email regarding an image used as a backdrop to BBC Birmingham’s news studio.

My name is David xxxxxxx and I am the BBC Information Complaints Co-ordinator with responsibility for the BBC’s English Regions therefore this matter has been escalated for my personal attention. Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying over the Christmas and New Year period.

I have now had the opportunity to investigate this matter with the relevant senior personnel in Birmingham and have set out the circumstances below. The image to which you have referred on Flikr is indeed that which was visible behind the Birmingham interviewee on the BBC News channel on 18 December. It appears that this came about due to human error.

As you may know, studio images like this are achieved by a colour separation overlay process whereby a green or blue background is replaced electronically by a still image such as a city centre skyline, or a live camera shot such as Big Ben which can been seen showing the current time behind interviewees contributing live to news programmes from our Westminster studio.

The team in Birmingham recently installed new CSO equipment and before it was fully functional, the engineers had to test the cameras and screens and therefore needed an example image to use as a background.

An internet search for images of the Birmingham skyline brought up a photo of the city centre (via a website not connected with your Flikr page) and this was then loaded into the system just as an example backdrop to internally test and calibrate the new equipment.

It was never meant to be used in broadcasts but unfortunately due to an oversight, this internal test image was not deleted before the system was brought fully online.

This is obviously very unfortunate and we apologise most sincerely for this error. The image has been immediately removed from our system to prevent any future reuse.

I hope that by explaining the background to how this situation came about you will see that it certainly was not deliberate. I would note the website from which the image was sourced appeared to make no reference to copyright and had no facility for copyright to be enquired about or validated, although I understand that the image has now been removed from that website.

Nevertheless, we recognise that your image was used on air and would like to offer you a payment of £75 by way of a usage fee on the understanding that this represents final settlement of the matter. If you are agreeable, I would also ask that your image entitled “bbc news 24″ on Flikr at be removed along with the comment “why is the BBC using this copyrighted photo of mine on news items” attached to the “Birmingham Skyline” image at

If our proposal is acceptable, perhaps you could contact me personally via and I can arrange for matters to be progressed.

In conclusion, thank you once again for bringing this matter to our attention and allowing me to investigate. Please be assured that this matter has been taken seriously and alongside the immediate action taken to remove the image, senior management will be speaking to those involved to ensure that they have a full understanding of copyright issues for the future.

Yours sincerely

Complaints Co-ordinator
BBC Information

How odd that an unnamed search engine found the image on an unnamed website, which was then independently removed from the website within a month of the BBC investigating. Meanwhile searching Flickr for Birmingham skyline turns up Bailey’s image on the second page. Bailey contacted the BBC once more and asked them to consider a more substantial payment for its use on national television. He was told to expect a reply last week, which has so far failed to materialised.

Update – 11th February

Since publishing the story yesterday, we’re pleased to report our coverage of Mike’s story forced the BBC into a re-think on the matter of copyright. A spokesperson has contacted Mike and offered an undisclosed amount, which he has accepted:

“Someone from the BBC called me and I feel happy with the explanation. I has previously felt I was being ignored by the BBC when my intellectual property had been infringed. I think the BBC will walk away with knowing they have to be careful with broadcast images and they will have to have tighter controls. The issue will continue to be a problem for copyright holders and publishers and I’m glad to have resolved it out of court. I can’t specify the details of our arrangement but I am happy with the outcome.”

Good news!

Comments (72) Jump to most recent comment
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  2. Posted by Michael Bailey July 15, 2009 at 9:49 am

    just for info.. The BBC paid me £600 for use of the image.Thanks BBC.

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  4. BBC fail! Shame they only offered a measley £75 quid the tight gits!

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  9. Posted by Alison April 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Posted by Mike | February 10th, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    3. your photo is clearly deemed to be very good

    I know it’s good, I don’t need the bbc to tell me that.

    Shut up whining Mike, it’s not that good actually. I’ve done better myself. Amateur itdiot.

  10. wow . hilarious to see a big news company like bbc looking like fools. great find

  11. Posted by Harry June 17, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    That guy is really lucky nothing more than that….
    and wants popularity in the name of bbc …..

  12. So if the reporters use this to pretend to be in Birmingham, what do they use to pretend to be in Iraq?

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