Saturday, December 14, 2013

Beware: The BYC Owns Your Photos

Yes, that's right. The BYC owns whatever photos and messages you post in their online forum, but it wasn't always that way. I will explain.

I joined the Backyard Chickens Forum back in 2008. At that time, when I signed up, the Terms of Service (TOS) said one thing. Now, it says another. And in the interim, changes have been made to it, which were not sent to members, and which significantly impact how one should post things there.

A little background: I am a professional photographer (among other things.) I have a BFA in photography from Syracuse University. I had my first photo published in 1980, as the cover of a national magazine (National Fisherman.) I have sold my photographs on and off since then, and value the copyright on my images.

I am also a freelance writer, have been for many, many years. Had my first article published in a book in 1990, and I hold copyright on my articles as well.

I would never willingly sign away copyright to any photo or article to anyone for free without some sort of benefit to someone. For a number of years I have written articles (and submitted photos) to Backyard Poultry Magazine (which has no connection to the BYC, by the way), in exchange for a free advertisement for the American Bantam Association. For most of that time, I received no payment for those articles, but I do now due to a change in ownership.

But I digress. The point of this is, as a professional, I would never sign a TOS in which I would agree to turn over the rights to the things I posted, photos or other content, to a forum website. So when I joined the BYC back in '08, I am certain no such provision was in their TOS at that time.

Not long ago I decided to leave the BYC (why is the topic for another blog post.) Before I did, I had asked a Moderator there to just delete my account and all my photos. Here is his reply:

"As for deleting an account, BYC has no delete option.  All photos and content forever remain property of BYC.  Just part of the signing up, user agreement."

You can imagine my surprise and dismay. WHAT?! I emailed back for clarification. No response. I emailed one of the Admins, asking to be sent the TOS as it existed when I joined the BYC back in 2008. No response again, and when I tried to log in subsequently, I found my account had been banned. 

Wow. Just wow. And here's the thing: most websites, when they change their privacy policies/TOSs, send out an email at least annually to their members, letting them know about the changes. Major changes will often get a separate email. So that if a member disagrees with the new TOS, they can remove themselves from the site. The BYC never did this, ever, in my entire time there. Pretty sneaky, IMO.

I actually queried several lawyer friends of mine, and the response was, even if it's a bad agreement, if you agree to it, it will likely stand up in court. So despite me never giving the BYC permission to own my photos and articles when I joined, because they changed their TOS on the sly, now they own my stuff. And they can use it any way they want, for whatever they want.

I will note that the BYC has a calendar they produce, which I presume is made with members photos. And I also presume, due to the TOS, none of the members whose photos are used get compensation for their pics. Which to me is just despicable.

So I warn all of you who are members of the BYC, don't post anything there that you want to retain copyright to, not photos, not articles, nada. Because once it's on the BYC, they own it forever, and you'll never get a dime out of them. And if you ask for clarification on this change, they'll ban your account forever.

Charming business practice by arguably the largest chicken related forum on the Internet.

I will note that the ShowBirdBid forum has no such draconian policies, and is filled with excellent information and knowledgeable people who are more than willing to help folks learn more about poultry. I encourage anyone who is seeking a good online source for poultry info to check it out today. As well, there are a number of good groups on Facebook in which you can participate, not the least of which is the Show Poultry Group, and for those interested in Buckeyes, the American Buckeye Poultry Club group.

And in those places, you'll have no worries that your photos will turn up in a calendar or book or something, and you won't be paid for their use. Just good people and great info.


Vickie Dawson said...

Thank you Laura for the heads up. This is an appalling situation with BYC. No wonder people are fleeing the site for Facebook.

Vickie Dawson said...

Thank you Laura for the heads up. This is an appalling move on BYC's part.Small wonder people are leaving the site in droves for Facebook.

Tracy said...

I'm glad you are speaking out about this very under handed business practice. They should be ashamed! I'm sorry they have treated you this way.

DandelionWine said...

Thanks for letting us know about this Laura. I haven't been active there for a very long time, and this is just one more reason to stay away.

Deb Kaczmarek

Julie Holland said...

Thanks for the info. I only had a few pictures there, but they are now removed.

Unknown said...

Hi Laura, thanks for your feedback. I'm a HUGE proponent of feedback and want to do all I can to make sure BYC can do the most good for the most people and the most peeps that are in their care.

Regarding the BYC Calendar: People submit their pictures very clearly knowing that they will receive a free calendar as a thank-you for their submissions. We are very clear about this in the first post of the calendar pic request thread. We've never had any complaints from anybody who submitted their pics and then been in the calendar. Actually they are thrilled that they were chosen and very thankful to receive a free copy.

Regarding our terms of service / license / copyright: Our terms have always required that members grant us the use of their pictures, text, etc. This is actually pretty common with most big forums, communities, etc. As a community user, I always hated reading a thread and seeing huge swaths of text and images missing because someone got bent and "boardacided" removing all their content. It didn't seem right or fair, so we have policies in place for preventing this. We hate having to do it, but we are very clear about this in the terms of use that every member agrees to when they join.

To be 100% clear: It is incorrect to say "don't post anything there that you want to retain copyright to, not photos, not articles, nada". You retain your own copyright of your images and can still use them however you want. You are not transferring ownership or copyright to BYC, you are granting us the rights to also use them. Again, this is pretty common online. In fact, have you looked at blogspot's policy? Check this out for the service you are using: "When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works".... almost exactly what we say on BYC!

Best Regards,

Rob Ludlow

MizGreenJeans said...

Thanks for that clarification Rob, I do appreciate it.

I will point out though, most folks won't split hairs the way you have, regarding the difference between "ownership" of and "using" their photos.

If you use my photos, I expect to get paid for it. No exceptions.

I strongly suggest you consider rewriting your TOS regarding your ability to “use” people’s content. Because that’s just not going to fly with most folks.

Last time I checked, websites such as Blogspot aren't using our photos to publish books and calendars. So that's a specious argument.

And just because most people don’t read the TOS before joining doesn’t mean you should put stuff in it that is going to make people uncomfortable. And the idea that the BYC can “use” my photos and posts in some way, makes me uncomfortable. And I’m obviously not the only one…

Email Address In Profile said...

BlogSpot is indeed making money off your material. Your material here draws people to this site, so guess what Google/Blogger does? They make money off your material.

There's a little bedsheet advertisement at the bottom of the page. That IS Google/Blogger making money off our material, photos and text. They're using your photos and text. The bigger this site might get, more money Google/Blogger will make.

The only way out of this is to go off the grid.

MizGreenJeans said...

Fred, you're comparing apples to oranges. What Blogger does is very different than what the BYC does. Sorry, not the same.

The day Blogger compiles a book of everyone's blog posts and publishes it, I'll want to know.

And besides, doesn't the BYC want to be known as something a little friendlier than Google, for goodness sake? It's not friendly to "use" someone's stuff and not pay them for that use.

Email Address In Profile said...

Not comparing apples and oranges, as not comparing or commenting on BYC at all. Simply saying that anything posted on any of these sites gets used by the site owner to make money. That's my only point.

If I Google many common things, I see my own photos in Images in food, gardening, tractors, and so on. It's freaky, but expected.

Again, Google is making money off my conversational post right now, right now. Additionally, if I post a photo here? It will show up in Google images and used in a myriad of ways on the net, all of which make money, ways far more sophisticated than a calendar. They are "selling" my posted material, your posted material. It's what they do. It's what they all do. This is how we have use of a "free" sites, "free search engines" and all the rest. Love ya, Laura and only wish you the very, very best.

MizGreenJeans said...

Again, I think this is an apples and oranges thing.

Individual blogs are not at all the same as the BYC.

(And if your photos show up on some website on the Internet where you don't want them, there's a takedown process you can follow, which will generally have them removed, just by the way.)

But let's compare the BYC to something a little more like it, say, Facebook. Now, the BYC is smaller than Facebook, we can all agree to that. But it is a much closer fit when making comparisons than an individual blog.

Here's the thing: if I wanted to delete my account on Facebook, I can do so at any time. And while Facebook might be able to "use" my stuff while I'm a member, the moment I delete my account, they no longer assert the right to do so. That seems reasonable to me.

BYC doesn't do that. There is no way to delete an account (or so I am told, I question this.) Therefore, the BYC can "use" my content in perpetuity. This seems very unreasonable.

Does the BYC really want to be known as having more draconian policies about this than even Facebook? Really? I suggest Rob may wish to think that through a bit.

I see no reason why a person shouldn't be able to remove all their content from the BYC.

Huge swaths of text go missing there all the time, in the process of moderation. What's the difference?

And certainly, banning someone because they request to retain ownership and remove "useage" of their copyrighted content seems to me to be going very much overboard.

I did nothing to be banned for, except to ask to have my stuff taken off the site. Banning a person, by its nature, implies the breaking of a rule or rules. Did I break a rule when I asked to see the TOS from 2008? If so, can you show me the link where it says a member can't do that?

I just think how some things are handled at the BYC needs work, and suggest that changes be made. If nothing else, allow people to delete their accounts and content. It's ours, after all. It truly is. And by trying to hold onto it in this fashion, you're just shooting yourselves in the foot.

Joe said...

I think you're being unreasonable since I know the exact shoes Rob is in. I too have run online communities and honestly, it isn't fair if someone just comes along and deletes all their conversations and content, retaining all the other users' posts. It looks weird, and it's a loss to the community, and as Rob said, it isn't fair. If you post content to facebook or Instagram, they reserve the right to use your content commercially in ads, regardless if you delete your account later they can use it etc, you agreed to it. I don't agree with commercial use without permission, especially since not all content on Facebook for example is public, but that's the deal and we have to suck it up if we want to use the service.

BYC is no exception. If you're posting content that is not on your own website you must expect they will publish it and under their terms. That's the deal.

As for calling it "Draconian" policy that's a bit absurd. BYC is a community, if want to contribute to it then do so, if not, don't, that's your choice, not theirs. If you want Draconian policy, look at North Korea and how people are treated there. Or, perhaps a more local version of Draconian policy is what you have when you give corporations and individuals the right to take 9 year old kids Whinny the Pooh Laptops for downloading the RIAA's spyware thinking it was a song, and then demanding ransom.


MizGreenJeans said...

Hi Joe,

Ok, explain to me how it's not "fair" if a user wants to remove their photos (which they've found out are now being "used" by a site, due to changes to the TOS which weren't communicated to the users), but it's perfectly fair for Moderators to remove entire swaths of threads when they come through and see things they don't like. Things that, to many people, were perfectly reasonable.

I really don't want to get into how I feel about how the BYC is Moderated, that's a topic for a later date (if at all.) But what the Mods do in terms of removing content and making threads disjointed is far worse than what any user has ever done. So that argument won't wash, sorry.

And in case you are not aware, Facebook gives you the opportunity to opt out of having your content used in their ads. It's not something they force you to do, you just have to know how to set up your privacy settings (check the "Edit social ads setting.)

And finally, I did want to contribute to the BYC community, very much. But my account was banned when I asked to see a copy of the TOS I signed in 2008. I think that was an unreasonable response to a reasonable request on my part.

I don't think asking for information should be cause for being banned. Yet banned I was. Thanks for your views, I just don't share them.

Erik Kiehle said...

It seems all parties would benefit from a more clear definition by BYC of what they consider "use". If retaining the uploaded images so that they appear in perpetuity on live forum threads is their definition of use that seems fair use since users uploaded it for the benefit of readers of the forum. If BYC want to "use" the photo elsewhere such as on a calendar or wants to resell it then I agree that is unreasonable (especially for a professional photographer).

In any case I'd suggest a watermark copyright on all photos going online with your company name and/or website address. That way if you find your photo being used elsewhere it should be a quick matter to claim copyright infringement and ask for a take-down.

Again, my opinion (worth what you paid for it!) is that how "use" is defined is critical for this discussion.

Amanda Ruston said...

This does not surprise me. As you said, moderation on there is another discussion, but I was banned for questioning a moderator as to what exact policy I violated when a post was deleted. I was then banned because openly posting moderator private messages, and questioning them openly on a forum is banned. I had thought about going back, but after seeing this, I will not. There are may other more friendly places to talk chickens. Thank you for giving us this info!

Boyd Craven said...

Hi there, Boyd from BYC from back in the day also... There have been a lot of us who left BYC for various reasons... after Rob had Backyard Chickens for Dummies come out, things took a drastic change.

All of a sudden, the whole culture changed during the book release ;)

Not stating facts, just my opinions, as I publically left there and only popped in to slowly delete my posts, pictures etc... PS, when the mods on Sufficient Self (Robs sister site to BYC) noticed folks removing their own threads and pics, the threads were locked, and the users banned.

Since then, there have been a few forums that spun off, and secret facebook groups (like Office Work etc.)..

Yes, BYC has be come a 700 lb gorilla, it cannot be ignored, but it's lost it's luster and charm to a lot of folks.

Again Rob, I know you've posted here, so for the record, these are my opinions, but I am also curious about the TOS. Is there a copy of one in 2008, and going forward?