Citizen hack?

SHOULD members of the public be encouraged to submit words and pictures to publications, broadcasters and websites? And if so on what terms? This provoked discussion at June's London Freelance meeting in the context of BBC TV's "Picture of Britain" series - and gained urgency with the massive use of camera-phone images of events around the London bombings. And on 3 August launched itself as a citizen journalist agency, promising to "make sure the right people see your photo and ensure that you get a good deal."

On the one hand, there are all sorts of arguments in favour. Diversity of voices in the media is a good thing. There are, inevitably, things that happen with no professional there to record them. There is good writing that's intrinsically non- journalistic, like the bomb survivor's diary that the BBC website copied, with the author's permission, from (She was not best pleased to find that they toned it down.)

On the other... clearly, our argument involves self-interest. Publishers and broadcasters will try to replace paid with unpaid hands if they can. On the tiniest of scales, the Freelance heard while writing this that the Bucks Free Press is now using amateur cinema reviewers...

But on a third and very important hand, there are the interests of the "citizen journalists" themselves. The BBC's terms and conditions state that all who send in words or picture "waive any moral rights" in their work" - which means they can't object to alterations - and "indemnify the BBC against all legal fees, damages and other expenses" arising from the (possibly altered) work. Scoopt does the same.

We're having words with both. Until or unless they change these terms, maybe we should spread the word: citizen, don't send anything in unless you have comprehensive legal insurance.

Pressure has already had a result: the BBC announced in July that it "can now confirm that it will not allow commercial use of any content submitted to the Picture of Britain competition. We are in the process of updating the Competition Rules on the Digital Picture of Britain website to reflect this." The  conditions at have however not changed.

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