The Guardian’s Terms & Conditions: Worse than Instagram?

The Guardian have launched a new ‘user content’ site in collaboration with EE called “Guardian Witness”, they are now urging users to post their content to the site at https://witness.guardian.co.uk. The site itself is nice and slick, as you’d expect if EE’s tech team has been involved.

The official announcement is full of comments criticising The Guardian for asking for free content, accusing them of trying to build up a free picture library, etc.

But something else seemed strange to me: throughout the launch article they keep saying that you ‘still own the copyright’ of any content you post. I have read The Guardian’s Ts & Cs before, and that didn’t seem quite right to me, so I did a little more digging.

Here are some notes, plus the key ‘Instagramesque’ part of their terms & conditions:

“You still own the copyright”

As part of the terms and conditions for using the site, they say this:

“You or the owner of the content still own the copyright in the content sent to us”

They’ve also put together a fairly friendly set of frequently asked questions which explain: “You (or whoever created the content) own the copyright to the content which means that you control what others can do with it.”

In their article promoting the site, they also point out in the comments that “the copyright is, and remains with, the creator of content added to GuardianWitness…” and later on in the comments they again say “The creator of the submission always holds the copyright.”

But what do the Terms & Conditions actually say?

Reading the above quotes, you may expect that it means that you, when submitting content, still control exactly who has the ‘right to copy’ any content you post there. What they don’t say in the launch article itself is that, in one of the clauses in the terms and conditions, there is this 50 word snippet:

“…by submitting content to us, you are granting us an unconditional, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully transferable, perpetual worldwide licence to use, publish and/or transmit, and to authorise third-parties to use, publish and/or transmit your content in any format and on any platform, either now known or hereinafter invented.”

 

Going back again through a few of the key points there:

  • Unconditional – there are zero conditions on how they can use your content.
  • Irrevocable – once you’ve posted content, you cannot ever stop them from using it.
  • Royalty-Free – they won’t pay you anything.
  • Fully transferable – they can in turn pass the right to use your content on to whoever they choose.
  • Perpetual – the right lasts forever.
  • Worldwide – there are no geographical restrictions.
  • Any format and on any platform – your content can be used for anything. They also “reserve the right to cut, crop, edit” your content elsewhere in the terms.

In other words, they may be promoting this by saying you still ‘own’ the copyright, and the FAQs may say they will endeavour to assist in various areas, but according to the terms & conditions The Guardian can do anything they like with your content once you have uploaded it.

They could sell your content, use it alongside ads (in fact the Guardian Witness site is in collaboration with an advertiser, so the content is by default being used as part of a third-party marketing campaign), they could allow anyone they choose to use your photos, videos, text, or any other ‘content’ you submit in any way they choose, and even if it is used commercially they never have to pay you.

How does this compare to Instagram?

This may all sound a vaguely similar to one of the complaints around the big Instagram Ts & Cs issue that blew up late last year. Oddly, one of the differences seems to be that The Guardian’s terms are slightly heavier than Instagram’s.

Here’s what The Guardian said about the Instagram issue in one of several articles about it:

“Instagram photos could be used in advertising, without reference to the owner, with all the payments going to Instagram. There is no opt-out from that use except to stop using the service and to delete your photos.”

The situation here is roughly similar, except that in The Guardian’s case you cannot opt out at all (even if you stop using the service). From the moment you post any content to Guardian Witness, you have granted them an “irrevocable, perpetual worldwide license”.

Keep that in mind when you read this advice, written by the excellent Jo Farmer in another Guardian article about user generated content following the Instagram fallout:

“Brands might be thinking that they can then use that content in future marketing, which might lead to a temptation to write something in the user terms and conditions to the effect that, “any content submitted by users may be used by the brand for any purpose without any payment to the user”.

The lessons we are learning from Instagram and other social media channels is to avoid any ham-fisted attempt to acquire such wide licence rights from your users in relation to their UGC.”

 

You can read the full terms here: https://witness.guardian.co.uk/terms.

Feedback very welcome on this, or do share this post if you think it would be of interest to others.

2 replies
  1. claire LIm
    claire LIm says:

    It is not simply a case of if you only want to make money don’t contribute. By contributing to this website you are not only allowing the Guardian to use your images and stories for free you are deeply underming the profession as a whole, not to mention encouraging lazy journalism where guardian journalists can pick and chose user content without even having to go out and talk to people or check facts ( I can see where journalists will be pointing fingers if stories are sloppy, and it won’t be at themselves ) A freelance friend of mine posted on facebook recently “If you think it’s expensive to hire a freelancer wait until you hire an amateur” – good luck to the Guardian in sorting the shit out when it starts piling up.

    I am a photojournalist and I have worked long and hard to get where I am: long hours at a news agency learning my craft from old timers at a regional and then going freelance. In the last 5 years or so I have had to work in other areas of photography to support myself because picture editors on newspapers have practically stopped using freelancers. Why would they when they can get images for free or from people willing to work for nothing ? Those who work for free or let sites such as this use their work without payment are lowering the standard for everyone and those of us who are good at what we do and who have worked hard to get where we are feel cheated because our skills simpy aren’t recognised or rewarded anymore.

    Under the terms and conditions of use the guardian states :

    ” You or the owner of the content still own the copyright in the content sent to us, but by submitting content to us, you are granting us an unconditional, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully transferable, perpetual worldwide licence to use, publish and/or transmit, and to authorise third-parties to use, publish and/or transmit your content in any format and on any platform, either now known or hereinafter invented ” This is not how it works. As a working photographer you will licence your images for a fee for a limited usage for a limited time. What the Guardian are doing here in effect is taking the copyright away from you despite the fact that this is not within the law. I do not understand how this is possible.

    If you have any integrity you would not allow yourself to be exploited in this way. I would suggest that anyone who would like to submit images to this site but does not want their copyright abused in such a way, they watermark their pictures limiting them to a one time usage.

    Reply
  2. Luella Ben Aziza
    Luella Ben Aziza says:

    Either greedy or lazy. They should have thought harder about an arrangement that would be fair. Maybe they thought no-one would read the t&c’s…

    Reply

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