Charleston in Pictures: Whose pictures are they?

Some people were pretty angry with The Post and Courier this week because the newspaper asked a Facebook page to take down several Post and Courier photos that were posted without permission or credit.

The Facebook page, Charleston in Pictures, took down the photos upon the newspaper’s request and initially said it was going to delete the page (which was not part of the request). Now it’s encouraging people to people are expressing their anger with The Post and Courier and some people are reportedly canceling their subscriptions over the issue.

I suppose it’s easy for the newspaper to look like the big, bad bully in this case but the copyright laws are there for a reason and they benefit everyone. There are also ways for Facebook pages like Charleston In Pictures to exist and prosper without violating the laws.

But first, why should we adhere to the law?

Let’s say you take a great photo and post it publicly on your Facebook page. How would you feel if the newspaper or even a friend took it from your page and posted it on to their page without giving you the credit? You’d probably feel pretty violated because it is your property. It belongs to you even if you’re not a professional writer or photographer.

I’m not an attorney but we regularly get training on what to do and what not to do when it comes to intellectual property. So that’s why, unless it’s a matter of fair use, which is a complicated can of worms, we ask your permission to use your photos and we give you credit (and link back to your site when applicable) unless you don’t want credit.

Some people asked why The Post and Courier was ‘picking on’ the Charleston in Pictures page when the page wasn’t making any money off the pictures.

1. One of the key ways to preserve copyrights is to enforce copyrights. If people are aware of what the law is they hopefully won’t violate it.

2. The fact is most of the photos had appeared on the newspaper’s Facebook page first:. Examples are here and here and here. And while that may not translate to actual dollars, Facebook has its own currency of likes, shares and comments that are valuable to anyone who uses a Facebook page to promote something. If our photos are used without permission on another page, we lose out on those likes and shares.

So how can pages like Charleston in Pictures thrive?

1. Use the Facebook share button: The magic of the share button is it allows the user to post the photo on his or her page while linking back to the original author’s page. That way everyone is happy.

2. An added note: Some of the photos were not posted on The Post and Courier’s Facebook account at all, but taken from the newspaper’s website after they were found through a search.

Ask for permission and always give credit: We use a lot of reader photos and we do it with your permission and we credit it to you. Don’t use a photo if you don’t know where it came from. Note: Giving someone credit without asking for permission could possibly land you in legal trouble.

3. Embed. Twitter, Youtube and Facebook have embed tools that let you take the tweet or Facebook post or video and add it to your website or blog. I often use Storify, which lets me do the same thing (see the one I made about this subject). This is useful because while it allows me to use the photo on my site, it again links back to the original users’ post.

4. Use your own art.

I hope this helps clarify the situation and I urge any administrator of any Facebook page, blog or website to ask me any questions about using Post and Courier photos or photos in general. You can reach me here or at

16 thoughts on “Charleston in Pictures: Whose pictures are they?

  1. While I certainly agree with the protection of property rights, I don’t agree with applicability of your analogy “How would you feel if the newspaper or even a friend took it from your page and posted it on to their page without giving you the credit?” The difference here is that unless there are some 300 year-old photographers still working at the P&C, no one at the paper really put in the effort or creativity required to create the protected work at issue here. On a related note, these are historical pictures that are being shared for simple enjoyment- not profit, not propaganda, not hate. As a (former) staple of Charleston, I hope the P&C recognizes that the PR damage taken from this issue isn’t worth whatever they think they will gain from actually having the pictures removed. If it’s a simple photo credit you want, simply require that they oblige; because making them remove the pictures makes the P&C look petty.

    • But that’s the point, Peter. The law already requires the photo credit, whether the photo was taken yesterday or 80 years ago. It’s not personal, it needs to be applied evenly because if you start making exceptions you start going down a slippery slope. The bottom line is there is a proper way to do it and it’s the responsibility of the administrator to know the law so they don’t get their pants sued off, not necessarily by The Post and Courier but by anyone. My intention is to help. I’m very eager to work together with that site or any other site who wants help.

      • The law does not require a photo credit. Where did that idea come from? Either the image is protected by copyright (which then requires whatever the owner asks for) or it is within an exception or in the public domain (which then requires no attribution).

    • PR damage? They ask you to follow what is already law? Go home to mama and cry in your basement for a while.

  2. As a photographer this is a battle we are always fighting, most people do not understand the money, and time we have invested in our craft. To some it seems like we show up click a button and we are done. The truth is we have thousands of dollars invested in the equipment, hours and hours of practice, studying and editing not to mention insurance cost, website cost and driving cost. If people understood that the owner could chose to take them to court to recoup loses maybe they would be more understanding of this..YET a better way to put it..if you work would you be willing to do your job for FREE? This is basically what it equates to. I support the P and C with protecting copyright work.

  3. On another noteā€¦not all of the images the post and courier uses are theirs, they use contract photographers and are obligated to protect the works of others.

    As far as those historic pictures..those probably fall under “fair use” but a simple email would probably resolve that issue and photo credit given so that it doesn’t look like the website is taking credit for said images.

  4. I totally disagree with post and courier. once on social media they should be able to be used our shared by anyone as long as its not hurting anyone

    • Apparently the people who disagree with this have never taken a decent picture in their lives, and want that work protected. Of course you can’t go around taking pictures off the ‘net and claiming them for your own. It’s plagiarism, just like claiming someone’s else’s writing as your own is. Get a life, people, and stop stealing other people’s work. It’s the age we live in though, everyone seems to think they are entitled to everything.

    • An image being social media doesn’t make it public property. This whole lack of understanding shows how ungrateful people can be that they have to be reminded by a law just to have good enough manners to say “thank you”.

      All the social networks have carefully crafted legal statements determining who owns rights to the images that are posted on their platforms. That in and of itself shows you how important this issue is.

      But besides that, this is NOT a victimless crime. It IS hurting someone… It’s hurting my wife and kids. It’s already been said here, but to reinforce, the professionals who take photos have thousands of dollars invested in their craft.

      A decent camera body: $1000-$2000

      A decent lens: $1000-$2000

      Memory cards: $30-$100 each

      Computer to edit the picture: $1000-$5000

      Insurance: $1000/year

      Gas to drive to the location to take just one photo: $3 and up depending on distance

      Parking, good, tripod, gear bag, etc: $$$$$

      And THEN you tack on cost of living, healthcare, raising children…

      The hope is that just one person might see that photo credit and give the photographer a call so they can hire them to do work that they can actually get paid for.

      The photographer spends all this money and time to give the image as a gift to you in hopes that it will add value to a moment in your life. So in a practical sense, giving credit is just a courteous way of helping the artist feed his or her family as a thank you for that moment of pleasure. It costs you NOTHING, so what’s the big deal?

      In essence, it’s just a nice way to say thanks. But it’s a shame that a society that has so much needs law to enforce a common courtesy.

  5. I am with the P&C on this, as a photographer I have worked very hard to learn my craft and I take photos and post them with care. The copyright law is and was created to protect my work and that of many others. I, like many other photographers are so tried of people thinking just because I post on my FB page it is ok to use it without asking, wrong. Please ask I have many who would like to use it as a reference for a painting that is great but please ask, if not I do not mind taking someone to court over this.

    Just because they are historic pictures does not make them fair use, read the fair use law closely, please.

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  7. Copyright is a reference to the ownership of a photo (or other work) and is not synonymous with privacy. Public access to a work of art (including photos) does not equate to public ownership, and the owner of the work can control its further dissemination while the copyright exists. Fine. BUT, there are many exceptions to copyrights. “Fair use,” in a nutshell, permits copyrighted materials to be shared without attribution for many noncommercial matters. Yes, I know there is a lot more to it than that, but that is a very brief summary of the idea. Fair use is a legal concept and is not exactly the same as what people might think when they just say that their use of a photo is fair. I would argue that republishing photos in a private Facebook account fits into the exception, but that could be argued. Here are the other two points, though. First, can the newspaper even establish a copyright in the images in the first place? I doubt it. Merely publishing a photo doesn’t make the newspaper its owner unless the paper’s employee took the image as part of his job or unless a person was paid for the work. I seriously doubt that the newspaper can establish that the vast majority or the very old photos shared on the Facebook page belonged to it; most of them don’t even have attributions in the newspaper itself to know who took them back in the 1930s and 1940s. Photos appearing in ads certainly do not belong to the newspaper, yet there doesn’t seem to have been any effort made to specify which photos the newspaper was claiming a copyright in. Second, all of this intellectual property rambling aside, the newspaper is getting precisely zero value out of the huge majority of historic photos in its archives (including those which were thrown out long ago and exist only in the printed newspapers today). If the newspaper isn’t planning on licensing them, then just WHY bother preventing their use at all? Just because the paper has a legal right to do something (and I suspect it doesn’t), why assert that right?

    • The photos we specifically found in this case were applicable.

      As far as the future, we’d like to look at a written reuse policy and possibly look at possible options for archives and sharing.