We almost always tell this story at our live lectures and Ed appeared in a documentary film about photojournalism citing the importance of this event.  It has the same “new” meaning
it had in seven years ago as it does today. Everything old is new again.

Tragically, in 2006, a private plane piloted by New York Yankee pitcher Corey Lidel crashed into an apartment building in broad daylight. The site of the crash was the south side of the very swanky dead end block of 72nd Street between York Avenue and (essentially) the East River. Lidle was killed, as was his co-pilot/flight instructor. The plane had flown north up the East River, past the 59th bridge and then into restricted air space. Apparently Lidle tried to make a u-turn at that point and wound up smashing directly into a hi-rise apartment building at about the 8th – 10th floors. In addition to the deaths of Lidle and the co-pilot there were reportedly 21 others injured including some first responders.

Ed’s apartment happened to be located just a few hundred feet from the crash site. He got a phone call from a neighbor telling him about the crash and that fortunately no one on Ed’s block got hurt. Ed turned on the TV in the office and noted that only one station had any live coverage of the crash, fire, rescue etc.  That station was a network affiliate which we will call “W123”.  One of Ed’s clients was a producer at W123 and the facts below are not based on a true story, they are simply accurate.

The block was very upscale having hi rise apartment buildings running on both sides of the block. There are no stores at ground level but rather the offices of doctors, dentists and shrinks – it is NYC ya know! When the plane hit the building the cops immediately closed off the block preventing access to everyone except first responders.  W123’s radio station happened to have a traffic helicopter in the area and was able to position itself to get very good images from a non-photographer reporting traffic…decent but not great. Great images were being created by the tenants of the building and people living in the neighborhood.

Within seconds, dozens of tenants with camcorders, digital cameras and the very best consumer video equipment available in 2006, commenced providing imagery of the crash, fire and rescues to W123. Shortly thereafter other news outlets received their own images from other tenants residing in the building or across the street. The professional news media had superior footage supplied “live” by multiple sources – all of whom were amateurs. W123 received “so many images that we couldn’t possibly look at all of them”.

In Manhattan where there were dozens of networks, affiliates and news outlets no “professional photography” was being used to cover the event as it was happening. One major station located just a few blocks away -walking distance for a toddler – did not even bother to send a news crew over as it was getting great video “for free” and simply kept the reporter in studio. The next day there was not a single photo in any of the major New York daily newspapers that was shot by a professional photographer. Since 9/11 which was cover by pro and amateur alike, we feel this was one of the first significant “visual news stories” in Gotham’s history to have been covered primarily by amateurs and helped the mud ball rolling down the slope of free content for the media.

In the Lidle case, nobody cared that professional photographers were there then and forever financially harmed in the production of the story.  The “reporters” who never left the comfort of the studio or pressroom did get paid of course.  It was a seminal event evidencing to photographers everywhere that photojournalists had made formally made the endangered species list.

There’s the historical perspective as we see it. Many similar stories later at the bottom of this slippery slope, we come to this item on PetaPixel.com, which is well titled “Use First, Ask Later”. The original source to read is here from the British Journal of Photography. The practice of using amateur images is becoming so institutionalized that news organizations simply use what they want and move on. They get their hand in the cookie jar slapped so rarely, “appropriating” images not even a consideration to the media.

We love the quote by Intellectual property expert Charles Swan of Swan Turton , who explains “In most cases the media will get away with this. Perhaps the tweeter isn’t interested in being paid, or the sums involved are too small to make legal action likely. But a policy of publish now, negotiate later cannot be defended from a legal point of view. Copyright isn’t just a right to be paid, it’s a right to authorize publication.”

While the news media has no reservation about using your image, watch what happens if someone does the same with their images. You will most likely then see a very vigorous defense of the intellectual property ad copyright laws. Photographers are at the sloppy bottom end of this muddy, slippery slope. The media companies see it from the moneyed top of the hill.