Copyright Controversy

Perhaps you’ve heard about the controversy swirling around The Vessel, a massive “sculpture” in the heart of Hudson Yards, a huge real estate development in Manhattan? It’s been described as an M. C. Escher drawing come to life and instantly became a favorite Instagram background for visitors to New York.  You can learn more about it in the video above.

When you snag a ticket for admission to The Vessel, as in so many things in life these days, you agree to various terms and conditions. Nobody reads them, right? Well, someone did and found that, by buying a ticket, you were agreeing to terms that essentially gave ownership of your photo to the real estate development. The original terms stated that you were giving the company “the irrevocable, unrestricted, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable right and license to use, display, reproduce, perform, modify, transmit, publish and distribute such photographs, audio recordings or video footage for any purpose whatsoever in any and all media (in either case, now known or developed later).”

An outcry ensued. Hudson Yards said the terms were created simply to tell people that the photos they shared on social media might be reshared and reused by the real estate development on its own social media accounts. While many locations have such policies few, if any, went as far as the language in The Vessel tickets.

Hudson Yards has updated the language in its terms and conditions to say that, as the photographer, you retain ownership of your photos but, if you post a photo of The Vessel to social media, Hudson Yards has the right to repost and reuse the image in perpetuity and at no cost.

Apparently, that’s closer to the terms imposed by some memorials and other iconic structures.

So, the takeaway seems to be that you always need to check the terms and conditions wherever you shoot. Fortunately, no one’s found a way to copyright the view from Tunnel View at Yosemite or Schwabacher Landing in the Tetons. But there are copyright restrictions at some memorials. Here in DC, photographers are prohibited from selling photos of many of the statues found in the FDR Memorial, and near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or Korean War Memorial, to name but a few.

NANPA works to protect the rights of photographers on a wide range of copyright and intellectual property issues, including participation in the Copyright Alliance and other coalitions.  Learn more about NANPA’s copyright and IP advocacy and one of the many ways your association is working for you.

Information for this story comes from, among other sources, The New York Times and PetaPixel.