There’s a trend emerging in the reporting of young peoples’ tragic deaths as the contents of their Facebook or Myspace profiles are feasted upon by a media ravenous for information about the recently deceased. And if family and friends of the recently deceased aren’t quick and savvy enough to shut down the profile, media outlets can simply head to Australian Associated Press images, who are now stripping images of the dead from Facebook and offering them in their image library.

Last year, in the wake of the tragic murder of 14-year-old Stefanie Rengel, Canada’s CBC asked whether the media is free dealing or free loading. Perhaps it’s time to also debate the issue here in Australia.

Drew Gollan. Ben Cannon. Darren Stratti. Ashish and Ashkay Miranda. In the aftermath of their early tragic deaths, these young Australians have all had their Facebook details plastered all over the media.

CBC asserted, “You can’t simply download a photograph from Facebook, or anywhere else on the internet for that matter, and republish it or claim it as your own”. The British Journal Of Photography recieved legal advice stating Facebook’s licence “wouldn’t allow Facebook to set up an image library to sell users’ photos commercially”. Why then, is the Australian Associated Press distributing images to the media, credited to AAP/Facebook, via an image library on their website?

Journalists with a conscience dread the ‘death-knock’; the practice of calling or visiting the home of bereaved friends or relatives — but the advent of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace has made life a little easier. Now photographs and information on the deceased are freely available online. It’s legal to publish this information since it’s already in the public domain but is it ethical to do so?

Facebook’s terms and conditions state:

By posting user content to any part of the site, you automatically grant to the company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such user content for any purpose on or in connection with the site or the promotion thereof.

Facebook can legally do whatever they want with any photos and information on the social networking site. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, declaring he’s seeking to finally make some serious money from his creation, by offering user information to companies seeking to poll targeted demographics on commercial products. Previous attempts to monetise Facebook users’ information have failed due to members’ backlash. But Zuckerberg’s not the only one using Facebook information for his own gain.

Crikey asked the following questions of AAP:

Does AAP have a commerical agreement with Facebook to distribute such
images? If so, does AAP pay Facebook for such images?

Does AAP obtain permission from relatives of the persons depicted in
images before distribution?

Does AAP receive payment from media outlets for any Facebook sourced

AAP’s picture editor Dan Peled responded: “We enjoy reading Crikey’s tips and rumours from time to time and thank you for the invitation to participate but unfortunately AAP won’t be sharing details of its news operation with you.”

Facebook did not respond before publication.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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