Facebook ruling gives media inquiry purpose

Facebook ruling gives media inquiry purpose

Summary: The ruling by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) that Channel Seven was well within its right to take photos from a public Facebook page should be a reminder to us all.


The ruling by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) that Channel Seven was well within its right to take photos from a public Facebook page should be a reminder to us all.

A couple of years ago, when I was still a starry-eyed journalism student, I was often horrified by journalists who would take photos from people's Facebook page. It was still a relatively new phenomenon at that point, but, nevertheless, I decided to explore the ethics of what was the new-age "death-knock" for journalists seeking photos of the deceased for their story.

At the time, I found that there was still a general reluctance to use Facebook photos in a lot of cases, and there was no clear policy from government, journalist groups or media organisations on whether it was okay to take these photos without asking.

In the almost three years since, it is much more commonplace for journalists to use Facebook photos, and it's not that surprising to see Facebook photos appear in stories all the time. The use yesterday got the nod from the ACMA, which said that Channel Seven was within its rights to use information and photos from the Facebook tribute page of a person who had died, because the page and the photos were available to the public.

The ACMA found that due to the open nature of the tribute page, the absence of privacy settings and the non-sensitive nature of the photographs, Seven did not breach the privacy provisions of the code.

Essentially, the ACMA is saying that if a person doesn't know about Facebook's privacy settings, then they have no one to blame but themselves.

In the years since I first looked at the ethics involved, people are generally much more aware of the privacy settings for Facebook. These days, it's less about keeping away unsavoury media types, and more about ensuring that your boss can't see your drunk Saturday night party photos.

But does this mean that it's entirely up to the user to bear responsibility for their own Facebook page?

To a degree, yes. Facebook makes managing your own security settings fairly obvious, so it's almost impossible to ignore them.

But, at the same time, as the government is undertaking its inquiry into the media, wouldn't it be much more worthwhile to investigate the impact of social media on the practice of journalism, rather than continuing on its witch hunt against publications that don't agree with its policies?

Topics: Privacy, Government AU, Security, Tech Industry, Social Enterprise


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • While pulling stuff from Facebook seems to be a fairly popular sport these days, have you considered the Copyright implications?
    After all, just because the page is publicly available does not mean that you or Channel 7 have any right to use the photographs in any way you wish without first contacting the photographer.
    • Hi AlanNew,

      My understanding is that Facebook owns the copyright of all of your photos you upload to the site. So I guess that would be a battle for them. I thought about raising that issue in my blog but I don't think Facebook would be willing to get involved each and every time some news outlet across the globe uses a photo from its site. It'd be in court more than Apple and Samsung!
      Josh Taylor
      • Facebook doesn't actually own the copyright in your photos and videos. Instead users grant to Facebook "a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook". This means that a user might well have a cause of action against a media organisation that uses their photos without permission. There are, however, two further complicating issues. First, depending on user's privacy settings, especially if photos are available to the public, the media organisation may be able to argue that the user gave implied consent by virtue of making the photos available in that manner. Second, the media organisation may be able to argue that the use of the photo falls within one of the fair dealing exceptions provided for in the Copyright Act, specifically fair dealing for the purpose of reporting the news.
        • Ahh. Thanks for clarifying Peter!
          Josh Taylor
  • Another aspect worth considering is the fact that there is a relatively large number of young Facebook users, which brings into question their capacity to provide informed consent, implied or otherwise. Irrespective of Copyright or privacy issues, it would be interesting to see whether ACMA would adopt a different view if there were issues raised around vulnerable individuals.
  • I suggest that if one wants to control use of photos, etc, published on Facebook, provide an explicit statement of the usage conditions. That would override any implied rights.

    However, I wonder how such rights could be implied, when the mere publication in other media forms does not confer any such rights. That is, in any other format, making something available to the public does not automatically confer free and unrestricted usage rights. They are still subject to copyright, and unless something explicitly states otherwise, copyright provisions still apply.