It is the thin end of a very thick wedge and one that threatens to shatter the long-standing links between the police and the press.
When Sussex police demanded £250-a-clip for copies of their formal interviews with the Brighton Cat Killer Steve Bouquet after he died of cancer, you have to wonder what comes next on the price list.
The videos were recorded as part of a criminal investigation and submitted as evidence in Bouquet’s trial. As such, they should be a matter of freely available public record, not flogged off in a shabby little sale for a profit.
All of it was, after all, paid for with public money and how many times to the police expect the public to pay for something they effectively already own?
Sounding more like the rights department for a Hollywood studio, Sussex police told one documentary maker asking about the Bouquet footage: “We only offer a single licence with the minimum cost being £250 for non-exclusive use for up to three years.”
They went on: “Please let me know if you would like to purchase.”
Many newspapers – especially cash-strapped local newspapers – rely on a good relationship with the police and a steady flow of CCTV footage showing crimes that the police want to be solved with the help of sharp-eyed readers.
Police videos are part of the lifeblood flowing between the police and the press.
They provide dramatic footage of a crime they desperately want solved, we provide them with hundreds of thousands of potential witnesses they would never have otherwise reached.
Several other forces have thrown up their hands in horror at the idea of charging, which is encouraging.
But once you start complicating the police-press relationship with money – or “administrative fees”, as Sussex police so charmingly put it in movie-speak – there is no predicting where it could end.
How long would it be until some budgeting genius in a police accounting unit decides that if they can charge for one video, how much more could they make by charging for all videos?
How much, you wonder, might a ruthlessly commercial police service have charged – or charge in the future – for video footage around, say, the shooting of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel?
Would it be a flat £250 each, or could it go to the highest bidder?
Sickening? Yes. But that’s what happens when you begin to throw money into the mix.