Over at the Carbon Brief climate blog, Christian Hunt shares a series of climate reporting images so overused he never wants to see them again. For example:
Hunt's bestiary of clichéd imagery (Polar bears on ice? London underwater?) is worth a visit. But that's not why I mention it. Rather, Hunt closes with a footnote about copyright:
I didn't ask permission to use these images - in some cases I'm not even sure where they're from. Spirit of critique and all that, but if you're a rights holder feel free to email us.
Hunt is being generous with his disclaimer, because for this article he does not need to obtain prior permission. Use of imagery in a news story or commentary where the images themselves are the news is among those unusual contexts where copyright law is fairly straightforward.
News and editorial outlets do not enjoy free rein to use any images they'd like to accompany their stories. They can't, for example, pull any old copyrighted image of a horse off the web for a story about a horse race. They can't even necessarily use someone else's horse photograph from the same horse race. But if a particular photo itself is compelling, newsworthy, or so horrendously clichéd to be worth a critical comment, then the photo itself is news, and most courts have sensibly ruled that allowing media outlets to report the news is a protected public good.