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Who Owns Content Submitted to iReport?

February 15, 2010

While some suggest branding yourself on CNN’s iReport, you need to be sure you understand what you’re giving away when you post content.

CNN.com’s Terms of Service make it explicitly clear that when you submit a video to CNN.com (including iReport), you give CNN a blanket right to do anything it wants with your creation.  And, they get to do it without paying you a dime.

The relevant part of the Terms of Service provides:

“…(D) License to User Content. By submitting User Content to CNN.com, you automatically grant CNN and its parent company, Cable News Network, Inc., the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive right and license to use, publish, reproduce, modify, adapt, edit, translate, create derivative works from, incorporate into other works, distribute, sub-license and otherwise exploit such User Content (in whole or in part) worldwide in any form, media or technology now known or hereafter developed for the full term of any copyright that may exist in such User Content…

This section basically says that as soon as you submit anything to iReport, you forfeit any ability you might have to sell it.  For example, if President Obama visits your campus, and you snap a prize-winning shot of he and the First Lady in a fist-bump, you have all the rights to that photo you would expect.  You can sell it to Newsweek or People.  You can manipulate it, put it on t-shirts, anything you want [provided you don’t interfere with the President’s right of publicity].  More important, however, is that you can stop other people from using your photo.

That is, until you submit it to iReport.  You might think that uploading a photo to iReport is like getting it published in your local paper – it’s not.  If you work with your local paper, they will either compensate you, allow you to also deal with other parties, or at the very least, agree to give you the credit in the photo’s caption.  Consider this provision of the iReport terms:

“…(E) Moral Rights. If it is determined that you retain moral rights (including rights of attribution or integrity) in the User Content, you hereby declare that (a) you do not require that any personally identifying information be used in connection with the User Content, or any derivative works of or upgrades or updates thereto; (b) you have no objection to the publication, use, modification, deletion and exploitation of the User Content by CNN or its licensees, successors and assigns; (c) you forever waive and agree not to claim or assert any entitlement to any and all moral rights of an author in any of the User Content; and (d) you forever release CNN, and its licensees, successors and assigns, from any claims that you could otherwise assert against CNN by virtue of any such moral rights. You also permit any other user to access, view, store or reproduce the User Content for that user’s personal use.”

To break it down:  CNN doesn’t have to attribute your submissions to you, no matter how they use them.  Worse, they can license your work, collect money, and the licensee can use your work, without attributing it to you.

It’s not just CNN, either.  Flickr (Yahoo) has similar terms of service (allowing unlimited use, distribution, modification, or adaptation).  Some sites do slightly better, like Twitpic‘s terms (allowing only use and distribution of your photos on their affiliated sites).  While some take no claim on your content (see for example yfrog’s (ImageShack’s) terms).

There are, of course, good arguments for posting:

  1. iReport could potentially reach more people than you ever could on your own.  People who might continue to follow your activities, and read/view other materials you publish in the future.
  2. Freedom of information is a powerful thing.  By allowing users to post news to their site, CNN brings to the world a grassroots news we’d probably not see without them.
  3. It would be really cool to see your content on an international stage.

That said, users should be prepared to give up rights to their content to get access to such a powerful and unique forum.  It’s all about being informed.

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