Photographers warned about companies trying to get them to agree to overreaching license terms

Photographers on social media seem to be the targets.

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A new copyright trick is going around Instagram, tricking users into handing over copyright permissions to their content. While it is common for photographers to be asked for permission to use their content, they should always check the fine print, as Ben Sassani discovered.

As reported by PetaPixel, after sharing an aerial photo of New York City on his Instagram account, he received a comment asking Ben for permission to share his image. The comment, left by Hilton-owned hotel Conrad New York Midtown said:

“@bensassani! We are sharing our favorite NYC views and would love to share this photo on our platforms providing you with credit. If we have your permission, please reply to this comment with #AgreeConrad. Terms of Use: Thank you!”

Ben decided to look into this, so he checked the website linked in the comment and read their terms and conditions. He was immediately alarmed by how overreaching the license would be. By replying to that comment with “#AgreeConrad”, Ben would have handed over practically all rights to that image, allowing the Hilton subsidiary to use the image to profit in any way they want, essentially revoking Ben’s rights to his own original content.

It’s also worth noting that Facebook and Instagram both include similarly alarming terms regarding content, particularly photos and videos.

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This raises the greater question about how contractual obligation works. Every time you check a box that says “I agree with the terms and conditions,” you are making yourself liable to a legally binding contract without having any idea what it contains. Even if you’re not lazy and try to read it, you wouldn’t understand it due to the deliberately confusing language used.

In addition to “uninformed consent”, there’s also the issue of “coerced consent” wherein you agree to the terms, regardless of what they may contain, because you’re in a hurry or in need of a particular service, like a GPS navigation app to get home. You never agreed to having your location constantly monitored, stored and shared, or to receive daily marketing emails from that company, or start seeing related ads. You just wanted to get home.

Carl Sinclair

Carl Sinclair is a technology reporter covering anti-competetive practices and privacy issues for Reclaim The Net. [email protected]