Does the Daily Mail understand copyright law?

Earlier this week, my attention was drawn to a story on the Daily Mail’s website on the basis that it was unusual. And it is, for here’s a story about gay parents which makes no attempt to demonise them or suggest that the baby concerned is at risk in any way. For the Mail, that’s a big step forward.

Daily Mail story on gay surrogacy by Julie Moult

The story itself is quite a heart-warming one: a gay couple are now parents of a beautiful baby boy, thanks to one of the men’s sister, who acted as a surrogate.

It’s clear, though, that the couple did not approach the Mail with their story, but that the majority of the “investigation” has been conducted by reading Facebook pages of the people concerned.

> However, on his Facebook web page last week, Mr Sigston could not contain his excitement.
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> ‘I am one happy Daddy – life is good, life is just where I want it,’ he wrote.
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> Two weeks after the birth he posted a message to Mrs Bradley which read: ‘Still really can’t believe how one amazing gesture can change the course of your life. Thank you sooooo much – you know who you are!!!!!

Any attempts by the Mail to garner direct quotes resulted in people refusing to talk about this private matter with them:

> …’We’re not ready to talk about this at the moment.’…
>
> …A spokesman said it was a private matter on which they would not be commenting.
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> Yesterday, Mrs Bradley said she was shocked the story had come to light and said she wanted time to think about whether to speak publicly. She said: ‘I need to consult my family, this has all come as a bit of a shock. There is a lot of us involved in it so we have all got to discuss it.’

That hasn’t stopped the Mail from publishing many photos, both of the happy parents and the sister who has helped them. Apart from one papped shot which is credited to freelance photographer Glenn Harvey, every other photograph on the page has the wording “© Facebook” attached.

Except that Facebook doesn’t own copyright on photos you submit to it – copyright remains with the people who took the photos. While there have been spats with Facebook over changes to their terms of service in recent times, the company has never attempted to claim copyright over what it terms “user content”. As with any other social networking website, you grant the site a licence to republish your content to your friends or other people, depending on your privacy settings. That doesn’t enable newspaper organisations to take those photos and republish them without your permission.

A quick look on Facebook now confirms that the three adults involved in this story have their privacy settings locked down so that only friends can see the pages from which this information has been lifted. Whether that was the case at the time the Mail lifted the story and the photographs, I can’t say. But whatever their privacy settings were, the Daily Mail had no right to use those photographs without permission — and from the quotes provided, it sounds unlikely that such permission would have been given.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.