Farzan Faramarzi has all the right skills to be a fine photojournalist. It's too bad he hasn't been paid for his work, in spite of the fact that it was a primetime attraction on KIVI Channel 6's evening broadcast of May 8.
Indiana-based minister Brother Jed Smock was back in town, and again targeting Boise State University students with his confrontational mash-up of scripture and bigotry. But things were getting particularly tense during this visit (Brother Jed surfaces at campuses throughout the United States on a regular basis); the Boise State Secular Student Alliance opted to give Smock a taste of his own brimstone, handing out sheets of "Bigot Bingo" to onlookers, giving extra points if Brother Jed revisited some familiar themes, such as "Women should be baby machines" and "Pray the gay away."
"One of my teachers called me and said something was going on there," said Faramarzi, a communications major who just wrapped up his junior year at Boise State. "I grabbed a camera and tripod from the communications department and I was there in no time."
And indeed Faramarzi captured the moment--and then some. As one of the students attempted to give Smock a hug, the minister resisted and pushed the student away--some, including the student, said that Smock struck the alleged victim. And indeed, the video is the best proof of what happened.
Faramarzi edited approximately 40 minutes of footage to 4 minutes, 48 seconds and uploaded it to his YouTube page, where he has also posted content from University Television Productions, a unit of the Boise State Department of Communication. Faramarzi is also a staff member of The Arbiter and embedded his video as part of the student newspaper's coverage of Brother Jed's shenanigans.
But Faramarzi was about to learn another valuable, albeit unpleasant, lesson about video content and the wild west of television news. He said he was stunned to learn that KIVI Channel 6 had taken his video, tailored it to their own needs and made it the foundation of its reporting on the campus kerfuffle.
"The whole thing captured on a cellphone," announced 6 on Your Side news anchor Michelle Edmonds, introducing the story.
But that's not true.
Faramarzi had chronicled the events with equipment familiar to any professional photojournalist. More importantly, the tentpole of Channel 6 reporter Chris Oswalt's story was propped up, almost entirely, by Faramarzi's work.
The 31-year-old student talked with Boise State educators, who in turn reached out to the Student Press Law Center.
"He could have sent [Channel 6] a bill for $200 and said, 'Thanks for using my freelance piece. Here's how much it costs to use my work,' said Dr. Seth Ashley, Boise State communication professor and adviser to The Arbiter. "Or Farzan could send them a letter, referencing the DMCA."
That would be the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, used by television stations all the time to protect their own video content.
Eventually, Faramarzi received an email from Jennifer Peterson, deputy counsel for Journal Communications, the parent company of Channel 6.
"I understand that you have already talked to station personnel about this issue," wrote Peterson.
But that's not true, either. Faramarzi called Channel 6 and asked to speak to a producer, broadcast director or news director, but was told they were all in meetings and was shuffled off to a voicemail box. No one ever called him back. We know the feeling; Channel 6 didn't respond to Boise Weekly's request for a comment on this story, either.
"You have to call and plead, even for some credit, which is outrageous," said Ashley. "Legally, yeah, they can probably get away with it. But what concerns me is it's more like lazy and unethical journalism than a legal issue."
Ultimately, days after it was broadcast, Channel 6 added the following words to its online script: "The video was captured by BSU student Farzan Faramarzi," with a hyperlink to Faramarzi's YouTube page.
"We can agree to disagree about fair use," wrote Peterson, responding to Faramarzi's insistence that his work was "the essential part" of Channel 6's report. "Under the copyright law, fair use allows a broadcaster to do a news story that is about the video and the conduct shown in the video and, in doing so, use excerpts from the original content. That's the exact format followed here," she said.
Meanwhile, Boise State communication students will have a fascinating case study to examine in the years ahead.
"Stations and corporate media outlets are increasingly cutting their own staff so they can rely more on this kind of work, yet they can't even be bothered to give this student some credit for his video," said Ashley. "They probably know they're in the clear. But it's unfortunate."