Initiation via image rights

Last week, emotions were running high at Vindicat after the UK published photos of recent hazing rituals, which invariably led to the usual criticisms. Shocking, degrading, simply not done anymore.

Let me disabuse you of any romantic notions about this journalistic work: the UK did not sneak into the Vindicat and Albertus buildings to secretly take ‘shocking pictures’ of hazing rituals (we wish). The contested photos are – simply – from the 2015 and 2016 almanacs. That means they are pictures from the hazing that took place in 2014 and 2015.

It’s a lot less exciting than it may have seemed. But that’s really the crux of what happened next.

Golf club to the throat

The almanacs are public. You can find them in the UB, and even at the sandwich shop across from the UK newsroom. Anyone craving a minced meat sandwich with onions can enjoy the image of hundreds of students kneeling on the ground in supplication under the watchful eye of a woman in fishnet tights, or pressed against the wall with a golf club on their throats.

The UK editors wondered: is that really necessary, even now? We showed the pictures to, among others, the Personnel faction (eliciting the reaction above) and published them along with the story on It was a journalistically sound choice.

Vindicat did not agree. According to their board, no one is allowed to disseminate or publish these photos without permission from the copyright owner. And it went without saying that the UK would never ever get that permission. In other words, we had violated their image rights. There were threats of lawyers and damages claims.

Functional relationship

It’s true that even pictures that have been previously published cannot normally be used again for no good reason. There are legal rules (image rights), and this is generally a good thing. But there are situations in which it is allowed. In that case, we’re not talking about image rights, but a visual quote. The UK felt that that in this case, we were dealing with the latter.

But we wanted to make sure. After all, precision is key. So while awaiting legal advice, we temporarily removed the pictures from our website. The legal advice confirmed our point of view. In short, it is as follows: the pictures are not intended as decoration (because that would fall under image rights), but there is a clear and functional relationship between the written word and the image that is being (re)used.

Also known as: a visual quote. With that in mind, we put the pictures back online.

Cup of coffee

And as far as Vindicat and the UK were concerned: we did get into it a bit. Conflicts happen, and they’re okay, as long as they don’t smoulder or turn into trench warfare.

And it won’t in this case. In spite of our disagreement, we’ve extended mutual invitations for a cup of coffee and a chat.

That’s how it’s done.

Rob Siebelink, interim editor-in-chief




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