Four doctors have donated compensation received from the Daily Mail, after it scraped their pictures from social media and used them without consent, to the BMA’s strike fund.
Deputy chair of BMA council, Emma Runswick (pictured above), and council members Becky Acres, Becky Bates and Joanna Sutton-Klein received a total of £1,350 in damages from the newspaper’s parent company Associated Newspapers Ltd.
The photos were taken from the doctors’ social media pages and used on an online Daily Mail story published on 13 January, shortly after the first BMA ballot for junior doctor industrial action opened.
The photos have since been removed but were also used in a version of the story published in print.
Copyright is generally owned by the person who takes the photograph. In three of the four photographs used, the doctors took selfies, so owned their own copyright. In the other, the doctor’s friend had taken the photo. That friend has since assigned the copyright to Dr Bates.
Dr Runswick said the legal win was ‘poetic justice’ because the newspaper was trying to ‘undermine’ the pay restoration campaign but has now directly contributed to it financially.
‘It’s enjoyable because The Daily Mail is an organisation that is so fundamentally opposed to us improving our lives, which wants the public to turn against us, and for us not to take strike action – and the result of their attempts is a significant donation to the strike fund.’
The strike fund, introduced since Dr Runswick was elected as deputy chair of council at the BMA, supports doctors burdened with essential costs such as GMC fees and childcare on top of outgoings like rent or mortgages and soaring bills.
Lifeline for doctors
So far, the fund has helped about 1,700 doctors who otherwise would not have been able to afford to strike to take industrial action.
‘It makes us all stronger,’ said Dr Runswick, who previously donated £22,000 of the funding for her BMA honorarium – the amount that surpassed her existing salary – to the fund.
‘It’s not charity,’ she added. ‘It allows people to stay active in the union and fight for issues on a local level – such as rate cards, rest facilities, rota patterns, or racist bullying – to improve our working conditions.’
Dr Runswick pointed to ‘quite a lot’ of ‘attack pieces’ on BMA representatives by hostile media towards the start of the pay restoration campaign and ‘particularly left-wing women’.
She said: ‘They see us as useful targets to try and discourage BMA members from taking action and organising – or discredit the pay restoration campaign in the eyes of the public.’
‘This is not about us wanting our photos to be taken down. The media has used our photos since, and will happen again. Now we have set a legal precedent for how much that will cost.’
Dr Bates pointed out that, on £14.09 an hour, she would have had to work for more than 95 hours to earn the amount donated to the strike fund.
‘We’ve shown that we won’t stand for newspapers that don’t play by the rules.
‘They might have a fundamental difference in opinion with us on the action we’re taking to try and restore doctors’ pay, but they should meet us with debate not hit pieces.
‘It’s a silver lining at least that the compensation they have had to pay for using our photos without copyright is going into the strike fund, which will actually help us continue our campaign rather than derail it.
‘The article was intended to scare or intimidate us and our colleagues. We want to show all doctors involved in the pay restoration campaign that the BMA has your back, especially so when we’re the victims of tactics like this. We’ve shown there are consequences to using those tactics.’
The BMA has covered the legal costs of the dispute but the full compensation of £1,350 will go to the strike fund.