Mar 142014

SURF the Don photographers had their work published without permission by Station House Media Unit (SHMU) in a booklet about Tillydrone. This unauthorised use of their images seems to have been because of a combination of Aberdeen City Council’s Sinclair Laing offering the images without consent and apparently suggesting they could be used by SHMU.  SHMU seems to have never sought permission from the photographers at the time, and didn’t clear the images in advance of publication.

More than two weeks on, and the photographers are no closer to compensation for the unauthorised use of images by SHMU in its ‘Tillydrone – the Guide’ Publication.  Furthermore, SHMU is now asking the artists to sign waivers granting SHMU permission to further use their images in an online version of the book.  Suzanne Kelly reports.

Frosty_Bridge Credit Vicky Mitchell

Frosty Bridge – Credit: Vicky Mitchell. Reproduced with kind permission of copyright owner.

Aberdeen City Council’s Sinclair Laing was involved with the SURF the Don Photography project. This was an excellent project giving local photographers an opportunity to see their work celebrating the wildlife and diversity of the Don area promoted and exhibited.
However, Sinclair Laing seems to have decided to offer the photographs to SHMU for potential publication; the artists had no idea this was being done.

SHMU then published some of this work, again without anyone thinking to ‘clear’ (get permission, check copyright, and offer payment to the photographers involved) the work.

Some photographers are understandably unhappy, and despite receiving in the region of £200,000 per year from the taxpayer via Aberdeen City Council*, SHMU is not offering compensation.

Aberdeen Voice ran the story on February 7th ( .

Contact had been made with the Aberdeen City Council which claims, somewhat incorrectly in this instance, that:

“We respect the copyright of artists and their intellectual property rights”.

This doesn’t seem to be the first time imagery has been appropriated/shared/used by the City without asking for the copyright holder’s permission in advance. A photographer has been in touch to make such a charge with regard to the City’s ‘Seventeen’ website on which work was used without permission.

Artists maintain control of their work and they should be paid when their work is used, be it painting, design, photography, music or film. The fact that it costs artists money to create their work is the simplest explanation for this legal right to compensation. Many artists want their work to be used only in ways they approve, and not for instance to be used by political parties, as has happened to several songwriters in the recent past, without clearance.

Artists might also not want their older/less sophisticated images used, as happened to one of the photographers in the case of the ‘Tillydrone’ booklet, and they might not want their composition cropped or changed.

At least one person whose work was used by SHMU is not in full-time employment; and photography is an expensive art form. The cost of a good camera, darkroom supplies, time – they all mount up, and these artists have a legal right to be paid.

SHMU seemed initially apologetic. They also seemed displeased the story was going to run in Aberdeen Voice. In fact, they insisted that apologies to the artists concerned were imminent, and Aberdeen Voice duly mentioned this fact in the first article.

The apology letter, when it did arrive, was not exactly what was expected. In the letter the Voice saw, no offer of payment was made, nor was there a suitable explanation as to how a charity, running courses on how to be media professionals, didn’t seek clearance on the photos before printing booklets.

Rather than offering any money, SHMU decided this was the right opportunity to ask for more free rights from the image makers involved – and sent the photographers a waiver letter to sign, granting SHMU the right to run the booklet and the photos online.

Here is text of a letter a photographer received from SHMU:-

“I am contacting you as the Chief Executive of Station House Media Unit (shmu) which worked in partnership with other organisations to deliver the booklet, Tillydrone – The Guide.

“In the collation and design of the booklet, we used your image having been given access to the photographs which were part of the SURF project. However, we have recently been made aware that you were not consulted and your permission was not obtained for use in the booklet and we would like to apologise unreservedly for any upset that this may have caused.

“We were not the lead partner on this project, but ultimately the oversight of the design and distribution of the booklet was our responsibility. We passed a final draft copy of the booklet to our contact linked with the SURF project in order to check the images were credited properly. We received a comprehensive reply from our contact detailing a number of suggested changes, but with no mention of permission issues and therefore we believed permission had been granted.

“Having reviewed all the evidence from communications around approval for use of the images in the booklet we now realise that we should have made a more direct approach to each photographer personally and should not have assumed that third parties had obtained the necessary approvals from you.

“This was a community project with numerous partners with input from a broad range of organisations and individuals, which led to a more complex system of approvals for copy and images than would normally be the case. Shmu is an organisation that works on a broad range of partnership projects throughout the year and with this in mind, we will be reviewing our processes to make sure this does not happen again.

“I hope you are able to look on the project and your work within it in the spirit in which it was intended, as an exciting and positive document that is a useful community resource celebrating the rich heritage, history and environment of Tillydrone while also profiling the talent and diversity we have within our community.

“We do not intend to publish more hard copies of the booklet, but – with your permission – we would like to publish an on-line version of the booklet on our website If you are happy for your image to be reproduced in that on-line version, I would be grateful if you could sign, date and return the enclosed permission letter by Friday 28th February. I have included a pre-paid envelope for ease. If I do not receive the permission letter back from you by the above date we will remove your image from the on-line version.

“Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further queries about this project or the use of your image in the booklet. I would also be happy to meet you in person if you prefer.

“With best wishes

“Murray Dawson, Chief Executive, Station House Media Unit”

 Here is the enclosed permission letter

 “Dear Sirs 

“Tillydrone- The Guide” (the “Booklet”)

“Permission for use of images

“I refer to such of my images(s) as were used by you in the collation and design of the Booklet, a printed copy of which I confirm I have received (the “Image(s)”). I note that you now wish to publish the Booklet on your website (“Your Website”).

“I confirm that I am the holder of the copyright and all other rights in the nature of copyright which subsist or will subsist, now or in the future, in any part of the world in the image(s).

“I hereby grant permission to you to reproduce the Image(s), along with a copyright attribution notice, on your website.

“Yours Faithfully, Name, Date”

With an annual operating budget of approximately £500,000 – much of which comes from the taxpayer, it is hoped SHMU will now offer compensation.

[Stop Press:  It has been brought to Aberdeen Voice’s attention that SHMU is an administrator of a website, 57 Degrees North. This carries a helpful article on copyright, and the importance of artists seeking compensation and credit, which can be found here:  by By Jayne Carmichael Norrie of the Forte Music School]

It is believed that a complaint will be made to the City Council’s Chief Executive, Valerie Watts. It should be noted some photographers are considering legal remedies. One person received a £250 settlement from the City using their images without permission in the recent past.

A further update will be forthcoming.

*From Aberdeen City Council, money paid to SHMU:-
2010: £237385
2011: £261598
2012: £287106
2013: £169661
2014 (to date): £213231

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  31 Responses to “Public Image Part II – Surely SHUM SHMUstake?”

  1. You do realise SHMU is a charity that does a lot of work for disadvantaged and disabled people in the poorest parts of Aberdeen, to ask for a financial contribution for these pictures being used in a community newsletter is bizarre.

    Has the photographer no shame??

    What a strange story to cover, asking a poor charity for compensation when no monetary thing of value has been stolen.

  2. “Darkroom supplies”. 🙂

    I suspect the Voice and its artists secretly have a Delorean we’re not being told about. Come into the future, it’s great.

  3. I am one of the photographers and live in one of the poorest parts of the city. I sell my pictures to make a living. If folk are going to give them away for free I may as well just pack it in and sign on. Many photographers use film, I use both film and digital. Is it just photographers who should give things away? Maybe charities should expect tradesmen to work for free or shop to give them goods. After all they do good work. Maybe I could give them my pictures in exchange for food parcels.

    • Vicky,

      They have apologised and admitted it was an error, surely that’s enough when it comes to dealing with a small local charity helping the poorest areas in our community?

      If it was a private for profit company that had done it I’d fully support you.

      • yes – a small local charity, which undoubtedly does good. However, with just under £300,000 going on annual salaries; SHMU is also a private limited by guarantee company which should pay for artwork it uses. Was the brochure commissioned? Did SHMU receive money for printing it? Even if it wasn’t operating on £500,000 per year, media companies get permission and pay to use photos. When it is your artwork, you can say that an apology is enough. Vicky has already explained how she feels.

  4. Comment from Station House Media Unit

    As an organisation, we are disappointed that Aberdeen Voice has chosen to continue to criticise our work. In our opinion this was an honest mistake; one that we have taken full responsibility for, which has been blown out of all proportion.

    As can be seen in the content of the article above, we have attempted to contact all the photographers concerned to apologise in person for the error that took place when finalising the design of the booklet – Tillydrone Guide, which was delivered freely to every home in Tillydrone.

    It was always our intention to make the publication available on our website ( so that others out with the Tillydrone area could make use of the excellent resource. It was for this reason that we attached a release form requesting the use of the photographs for the on-line version along with the letter of apology. We made it clear that we would remove the photographer’s image from the on-line version unless their consent was secured. We fully recognise that this is the same permission process that should have taken place with the original printed version and have openly accepted our shared responsibility in the failure to ensure that permissions were sought prior to printing, as can be seen in the letter of apology that was sent to photographers as detailed in the article above.

    Seven photographers images were used in this booklet. Of the seven, one person could not be contacted due to data protection issues; one person has asked for their image not to be used; one person has not replied to the request for use of the image in the on-line version, and their image will be removed; and four people are very happy for their images to be used.

    At no point have any of the photographers who have been contacted indicated that they are looking for financial compensation.

    We have accepted our responsibility in the process that led to this issue arising and have put in place new procedures to ensure that it does not happen again. We will continue to deal with the matter directly with the photographers concerned, and would urge any photographer that would like to discuss this issue with us further to phone and make an appointment with me at SHMU, our number is: 01224 515 013.

    We will not be making any further statements on this story as we are conscious that responding to this is taking us away from our primary purpose; providing and facilitating the platforms and skills required to enable the voices of residents within the regeneration areas of Aberdeen, and other disadvantaged communities of interest across the city, to be heard. This is, as it always has been, our priority.

    Murray Dawson
    Chief Executive
    Station House Media Unit

    • It is very good that you admit making a mistake. The law however says the photographers who want compensation are entitled to it: and that is what Aberdeen Voice has been trying to secure: why the reluctance to offer any compensation? And just wondering: is this the first and only time SHMU has used images without permission? Thank you for clearing that up.

      If SHMU were not a media organisation which trains people how to work in the media, this ‘mistake’ would be somewhat understandable. Considering SHMU’s remit (and this helpful piece on a website it administers – which tells people to go after compensation if their artwork has been used) – it seems on the disingenuous end of the spectrum to say this is just an accident, one that SHMU won’t make good on. Is there really none of your £500,000 annual budget left that giving one or two hundred pounds out is impossible? Don’t you agree that this is the right thing to do?

      Thank you to people who have been in touch with regard to similar copyright breach experiences; I am very keen to hear from any artists/photographers whose work has been used without permission.

  5. I dont understand the story here.

    Have any of the photographers asked SHMU for compensation?
    It appears from the statement from the organisation that they haven’t.

    If they haven’t then what’s the point?

    It seems that they recognise their responsibility and have apologised – where’s the story?

    Sounds a bit vindictive to me – is there some underlying disagreement between AV and SHMU?

    • SHMU has it in writing that some of the photographers want compensation, which they are legally entitled to. Apologising doesn’t let anyone off the hook in the eyes of the law. Did you see the comment from Vicky? Do you think it’s vindictive to want to be paid for your work or for wanting control of how your work is used? Interesting.

      • Are you sure?
        They say in their statement;
        “At no point have any of the photographers who have been contacted indicated that they are looking for financial compensation.”
        Are you saying Vicki has requested compensation and has been refused?

      • Simple answer: I asked Murray about compensation on behalf of those who want compensation in an email 7 March – no answer came.
        Question: If you take something that isn’t yours, use it in a way that earns you money, do you think saying ‘sorry’ gets you off the legal hook?
        By the way, it’s taken quite a while to even determine whether Aberdeen City Council or SHMU was going to take responsibility for this piece of copyright theft. SHMU did so, but is now saying it is not the lead agency. Some of those involved held fire until the ‘apology’ letter was issued: normally such an acknowledgement of copyright theft would also contain an offer of compensation, the SHMU letter didn’t.

        There are number of other factors behind the scenes I would love to make public, but for the time being I’m not doing so. Andy, why don’t you just ask SHMU why it can’t offer money for the work it used? It’s a £500,000 per year professional media company and it knows all about publishing law. And if it doesn’t know how to treat photographers and artists, then why not?

      • So Aberdeen Voice have requested compensation on behalf of the photographers?
        Did you request a specific amount?
        Did you ask all the photographers if they wanted you to deal with compensation claims on their behalf?
        I dont understand why the photographers who are looking for compensation don’t just contact SHMU directly and ask for the amount they feel they are due?

      • First, I’d like you to look at the ‘about’ Aberdeen Voice page. This is my story, carried in Aberdeen Voice. Having admitted breaking copyright law, SHMU should have offered compensation – they had every opportunity to do so. When you are approached by people to look into a matter, and find out they’ve been wronged, and you can’t get redress or even all the facts (who was the lead agency if not SHMU? what was Aberdeen City’s role?), then there is every reason to make the story public. There are more facts behind how SHMU is dealing with the photographers and me behind the scenes, believe me I would so like to share this, and just might. Can I ask you – why don’t you think a company like SHMU which has a publicly-funded large budget, which purports to be able to train people to be media professionals won’t pay someone like Vicky when they admit to taking her work without permission? SHMU had every opportunity to do the right thing here and offer a settlement when it asked me to write that it was contacting the photographers to apologise. There would not have been a story had this happened. This is very black and white as far as the law is concerned; don’t you have any concerns about how SHMU acted? I can promise you that several rights agencies are interested.

      • So Vicki is the person you are acting on behalf of?
        One photographer is behind the story?
        I agree this is black and white – she should contact SHMU and request the amount of compensation she thinks is fair.

      • Suzanne, I take it from your lack of response to my earlier question that Vicky is the only photographer who is looking for compensation?

        Is it not true that until recently Vicky was a volunteer photographer with a local community magazine facilitated by SHMU, offering to provide photographs to the community magazine free of charge?

        The plot thickens…

  6. I suspect their may be a conflict of interest here, perhaps Suzanne might clarify whether the photographer is a personal friend?

    I have a friend who has a dj slot at Schmu, just to make it clear why I have an interest here, I know the good work they do.

    • I am happy to confirm that there is no conflict of interest. Why do you think the photographers are personal friends, I wonder – they are facebook acquaintances, like a few hundred other such acquaintances. Even if they were my closest friend, the principles remains the same – as set out in the article.

      Can you ask your friend at SHMU why it feels it’s above the law and above industry standards of paying photographers for work published? We would love to know. SHMU does good work – why you feel that is in dispute is odd. What is not in dispute is they have acted unprofessionally here.

      I am very glad to know that your friendship with a SHMU dj has not coloured the basics of copyright law and publishing.

      • Again, the same question – has Vicky directly asked SHMU for compensation?
        If not, perhaps she should and then let us all know if in fact there is any point to this story?

      • Dear Andy, Thank you for your in depth interest in this case of admitted copyright theft. As you can appreciate, there are legal issues which make further disclosure at this time impractical. As indicated, compensation was requested, and was expected when we were told that SHMU was about to write to those involved. Perhaps you should ask SHMU instead to share their correspondence with me, Aberdeen Voice, and those involved, be it by email or on social media – you would find it interesting. By all means continue your conjecture and speculation; as interesting as they are to some I’m sure, they do not change the facts and the legal requirement to pay for photographs SHMU published. SHMU is aware of the rules; it posted guidance on a website it manages. As you are very interested in the backgrounds of those involved, may I ask whether you have any connection to SHMU?

    • I see that the photograph linked to this story is from the photographer in question.
      How much money did Aberdeen Voice pay to use the image for this article – or was it provided free of charge?

      • Dear Kathy, all of our photographs are cleared in advance, thank you for your question. If Aberdeen Voice did pay for using photographs, that would of course be between us and the photographers / image makers. As it happens, all images on AV were cleared in advance and no fees were charged. It should also be noted that AV doesn’t have a budget remotely approaching that of SHMU, and receives no taxpayer funding.

  7. It’s a lovely photograph. Was it used in the publication in question?

  8. It appears that the author has touched a few raw nerves with this article. Several parties appear to object to the publication of this information whilst failing to provide, or even attempt to provide, any evidence to suggest that the article is in any way inaccurate or misleading. At least one of the photographers appears to support the case put by the author and it is, therefore, difficult to understand any of the points being made by the detractors.

    It appears that SHMU have acknowledged their guilt and apologised whilst, at the same time, they appear to have sought to add insult to injury by asking permission to continue to use the work free of charge in an additional publication. I would not take too kindly to someone apologising for stealing my wallet whilst asking my permission to steal my watch as well.

    Perhaps those objecting should declare exactly why they have taken the time to make objections which contain no substance?

  9. You can steal anything you want as long as you issue a retrospective apology? Shame on you SHMU.

  10. Andy,How do you know that I have volunteered time for a SHMU publication? Do you work form SHMU? Are you the same person that thought it was acceptable to send me a bullying email? Is my name being bandied about because I am the only photographer who has volunteered my time to as community magazine? The plot thickens…

    • I cant believe that this is even a subject within Aberdeen voice, local people give up there time to volunteer at shmu and learn new skills in doing so. I have stayed in woodside since I was a child If people who contribute to the magazines were to be paid for their input ie. photos, stories etc then there would not be enough money in the pot for it all. I do believe if people are paid monies for things then it has to be declared through tax would that be the case….
      I am from one of this areas and am disgusted that people would even contemplate thinking about taking money from a CHARITY for their own work.
      Does Aberdeen voice pay for the pictures and stories that they use… what is Aberdeen voices ethos anyway I dont quite understand what your about!!!!!

      • I will be happy to explain, since somehow the article didn’t seem to explain it to you. SHMU gets £500,000 per year. It spends £290,000+ on salaries. It gets paid to create booklets. It used photos without getting prior permission or payment from someone who cannot afford to work for free, as you somehow think they should. Aberdeen Voice asks permission from photographers, and then uses work. It’s quite simple really, and the law backs us up. In fact, a photographers’ rights agency has suggested that since SHMU is not offering to pay anything at all, the matter should go before the Charities Commission. Do you work for free? Do you let people take your goods without getting compensated? Thought not.

      • I find your comments insulting i am a local person and you have upset me with your tone. Im not academic and for the amount of work that goes on in the area through shmu that does not seem like a lot of money. I know about shmu due to having a magazine delivered to my house which is great to see the work by local people. I was only merely giving my point of view that’s what this page is about. I get the feeling that this is your issue with the organisation is this the case? Who funds you??

      • will tell you about funding. Sorry if you don’t like the tone of my reply; to me it seemed suited to the tone in your original post. All of the reasons why photographers’ work is clearly their creations and must be cleared is set out in the article, and is surely known to SHMU, which trains people to work in the media. If you ask someone for permission it is up to them if they will donate the work or ask to be paid. If you don’t ask for work and you publish it, well then the law has something to say on the issue. Whether or not you are local, as am I, sadly, has no bearing on SHMU being in the wrong.

  11. Theft is theft. Is it ok steal from someone who lives in a deprived community? Eh no! Pay the photographers. Charity my arse.

  12. Clearly it doesn’t matter what is being said you have made up your own mind. Aberdeen voice for whom ( yourself)

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