Copyright Grab? There’s An App For That… WTF!!

They’re all at it. With the launch of Color, a new smart-phone photo-sharing application last week, CNN raised some concerns about the voyeuristic nature of the app. But US photographer and photo editor Thomas E. Witte spotted something of greater concern to professional photographers. For buried deep in Color’s Terms of Service is a copyright grab in which the company generously award themselves effective ownership of any images taken using the app:

“You automatically grant (and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant) to Color Labs: (a) a royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid-up, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to (i) store, use, reproduce, distribute, modify, adapt, and publicly display your Content within the Site and in the Color Environment, as individual images or as part of a compilation; and (ii) use and reproduce any of your Content in any or all media throughout the world for the purpose of transmitting or publicizing the App or Color Labs, Inc. or Color™; (b) the perpetual and irrevocable right, but not the obligation, to delete any or all of your Content from the Color Labs servers and from the Site, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and for any reason or no reason, without notice or any liability of any kind to you or any other party; and (c) a royalty- free, fully paid-up, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to copy, analyze and use any of your Images and comments as Color Labs may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing and/or providing support services in connection with the App or the Site.”

Some might claim it’s unlikely that pro photographers would be threatened by the grab, but they’d be wrong: photojournalists especially are increasingly using smart-phones to capture images and social media to distribute those images. The most notorious example of what can go wrong is the Agence France Presse heist of Daniel Morel’s award winning images of last year’s Haiti earthquake. Color’s terms essentially cut out middlemen like AFP in such rights grabbing: if Morel had used Color for his Haiti work the software company could have claimed ownership.

Of course this isn’t the first time a start-up company with a new piece of software has thought it has the world by the tail and can grab whatever it pleases. One long-forgotten Mac design programme attempted a similar Terms & Conditions copyright grab in the mid 90s. And IPIX, an early commercialiser of navigable bubble VR pictures, also tried it on, claiming that any image made with its software was IPIX copyright: IPIX went bankrupt in 2006. So even though Color have $41m of investor’s capital to play with they might want to reflect that grabbing their user’s intellectual property isn’t necessarily the best approach, or any guarantee of commercial success.

Peter Pham, co-founder of Color, was dismissive of CNN’s privacy concerns: “If you don’t feel comfortable having that public, then don’t use our application,” he said. Presumably he has a similar message for photographers: if you don’t feel comfortable with us ripping off your images, then don’t use our application.

And that’s a pretty odd way to promote your new photo-sharing app.

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