The more I learn about copyrights, social media, and unorthodox business practices, the more I learn how scummy BuzzFeed’s business model is. They occasionally put together interesting, time-killing lists that many people share and talk about, but it turns out that’s often at the expense of copyright holders. I discovered a couple weeks ago that BuzzFeed lifted one of my pictures from Flickr – a place where none of my photos are downloadable, which means they had to screen grab the picture, then upload it to BuzzFeed’s server and to their Twitter page. I already have a decent concept of intellectual property/copyright laws and decided to dig a little deeper into the company’s business practices. What I discovered is that multiple copyright infringement lawsuits have been filed against BuzzFeed.

That company’s stance has generally been that they can grab photos from any source and, by creating a list of “Home Organization Hacks” (or whatever list it may be), the use of the lifted photo as part of a group of lifted photos is “transformative.” By that, they seem to be convincing themselves they are creating a new, unique work that serves the greater good of the world. But would people even be as interested without images that supplement the text? Sometimes it’s not even about the text. How about all of those collections of “12 Amazing Images You Have to See” or “The 10 Best Album Covers”? In those cases, the posts couldn’t even exist based on descriptions alone. That’s because all of those images, even the supplemental ones, are essential in achieving the goal – providing a visual experience that leads to more page clicks.

BuzzFeed’s CEO has even said, “I would love if every image contained some secret metadata and a way to license that image…” Well, my files on Flickr DO include metadata, and that information isn’t retained when you screenshot one of my images because you don’t see a download link. There is no download link as a deterrent. I fully know it doesn’t stop theft, but you also aren’t going to come away with the full-res photo. I’ll provide that to you for a fee. And I obviously have the resources to track down unauthorized use, .

While on the topic, I license photos all the time for work. Once you establish a relationship with a photo provider, it’s an easy process. Depending on the photo, a single one is usually hundreds of dollars for worldwide use but can sometimes cost thousands. In using any photo, I have to get approval from lawyers and a license agreement has to get signed. We don’t even think about pulling any random images from who-knows-where and using them without permission because we would get sued… rightly so because we respect the rights of those who create intellectual property.

So alas, believing in the adage “You use it, you bought it,” I’ve sent an invoice to BuzzFeed. This is me being nice – seeking rightful compensation, rather than going to court. I’m hoping the result is simple enough because I can be a real pain in the ass when the boxing gloves come off.

Bottom line – Don’t enable BuzzFeed. Aside from the deals they officially broker with content providers that have armies of lawyers (i.e. Reuters, Getty, AP), evidence suggests the other part of their business model comes from snagging whatever photos they can quickly/conveniently find and pretend they are in the public domain. They aren’t, and such a business model can’t and shouldn’t be sustainable.

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Having worked on a number of reality TV shows, it was always part of my job to have people who MAY appear on screen sign “Consent to Use Image” forms. On one particular show, it was a rather tricky operation because there was a form for unpaid appearances, one for paid appearances, and two others for, uhhh, some sort of confusing, paid/unpaid stipulation. Ultimately, law can be a pretty murky area, so one photography professional I know always carries around $1 bills to compensate people for incidental appearances. If people happen to show up in video he shoots for commercial use, he gets them to sign the “Image Use” agreement and pays them a buck. His agreement form points out that they were paid – and how much – to further help avoid legal claims.

Another important consideration for these “Image Use” forms is to jot down on the form itself a physical description of the people who have signed these agreements. In the long run, Producers and Video Editors can then determine much easier which people have already been cleared to be used in your production.

The example listed below comes from a show I previously worked on. As I am in no place to dispense legal advice, I am conveying the information below “as is.” In other words, using the information given is at your own discretion, and you should run it by a lawyer to see if he/she has anything to add to it.

 

Consent to Use Image

I was/will be filmed, photographed, or recorded by ____(your company name goes here)____. In consideration of the potential exposure that this production may bring me, I ____(subject fills in name here)____ grant to ____(your company name here)____ and its agents, licensees, productions vendors, affiliates, subsidiaries, successors and assigns, the universe-wide, royalty-free, fully paid-up, irrevocable, and perpetual right and permission to (without my approval) use, publish, broadcast, and copyright (whether in digital form or otherwise) my name, nickname, persona, character or characterization, initials, logo, slogan or catch phrase, autograph, facsimile signature, voice, photograph, film, video or new media portrayal, actual, simulated or drawn likeness, images, biographical or historical information, any material provided by or statement made (whether oral or written) by me, and physical attributes including, but not limited to, any material based on or derived based on my likeness.

I also agree to assume all responsibility for and hereby release and hold ____(your company name here)____ and each of its officers, directors, employees, shareholders, agents, licensees, affiliates and subsidiaries, harmless form any liability of any kind or any claim whatsoever (including, but not limited to, claims for personal injury or death, invasion of privacy, defamation, right of publicity or infliction of emotional distress) directly or indirectly arising out of or resulting in any way from my likeness being used by ____(your company name here)____ and I acknowledge that my likeness may be used in and in connection with still imagery, film and audio, affiliated with current and future ____(your company name here)____ projects.

I acknowledge that there will be no compensation to me for being filmed, photographed, or recorded and the rights granted herein except as provided herein and that ____(your company name here)____ is not required to use my likeness. I also acknowledge that all materials produced under this agreement, including any photos, films, or recordings are the absolute and exclusive property of ____(your company name here)____ forever. This agreement shall be governed by and construed under the laws of the State of ____(your U.S. state)____ and the parties hereby consent to the exclusive jurisdiction and venue in the courts sitting in ____(your city and state)____.

AT THE TIME THAT I SIGN THIS AGREEMENT, I AGREE THAT I AM EIGHTEEN (18) YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER.

PARTICIPANT

Print name:________________________

Signature:_________________________

Date of birth:_____________________

Today’s date:______________________

 

Once I get my domain website in order, I plan on making the document above a downloadable form that’s already formatted, so stay tuned. For more Reality TV / Documentary resources, check out this post: How to Conduct a Documentary / Reality TV Interview.

 

Finally, as an aside, WordPress provides me with two types of useful stats: page views and how a person landed here. Though anonymous, sometimes I can see search engine terms that linked to this page. For this entry, I sometimes see terms like “can you be on reality tv without consent?”

Well… unless you feel your appearance is exploitative and tarnishes your reputation, don’t be a jerk and try to figure out ways to screw people out of money. There is already too much dumb litigation going on in this society, bogging down the courts and creating animosity between people.

I’m no lawyer or judge, but I have taken Media Law classes that exposed me to real-world privacy cases. Chances are, if you’re trying to figure out if you can exploit people and seek damages for a situation where no harm was done to you, then you’re probably S.O.L. Were you in a public space when you were filmed? If so, you can’t have any expectation of privacy. Were you on film because you were in the proximity of a public figure? Then, you’re not the subject of the video. If you just happened to be in the background, you may – but probably don’t – have a case. Were you on the news? News is public interest. No money for you. If you were in a private space, are you sure there wasn’t a filming notice posted and, by entering the property, you were giving consent for your likeness to be used?

If you were in the background of a show, do what I’ve done – laugh about it, share the exposure with your friends, and fuhgetaboutit. Unless Honey Boo Boo’s family made you look bad (by association), you were caught making out with a high schooler, or Snooki assaulted you, it’s probably not that serious. If it is, get off the internet and take the footage you were in to a lawyer, because you’re not going to get good, free legal advice through a Google search.

As always, feel free to share this page via the social networking links provided below… comments are always cool, too!