Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Common Ground Between Bad Dates and Bad Terms of Service

What's the biggest thing we risk when we go out on a date or when we make a pitch to a publication?

We risk REJECTION. And we all universally hate rejection...esp. when it comes to our attractiveness or our creative abilities...

But rejection's part of the whole dating and publishing scenes. There's no avoiding it. Yet, after awhile, some of us end up a bit bruised, and we settle for whatever comes down the pike...

With publishing, we may want to be validated so much that we might be willing to settle for Terms of Service or licencing/right agreements that don't quite have our best interest at heart. And, in the long run, could end up like that really bad relationship...

This all kinda hit me today after seeing Mark Hamilton's comment on this Techcrunch post, and then his post on Helium.com's licensing--and something that made both of us a tad uncomfortable. Now, there have been others sites with hinky ToS or licensing or rights agreements, so I'm emphatically stating that Helium is NOT the only one and will elaborate further down...Mark, however, quotes the following from Helium's licencing agreement:
By submitting your content to Helium, you grant Helium (and any Helium successors-in-interest, subsidiaries, or parent companies), a worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, transferable, non-exclusive, sub-licensable right and license to, in whole or in part, with or without attribution to you, use, copy, modify, edit, adapt, publish, publicly display/perform, translate, display, create derivative works from and/or license (or sell with your authorization) and/or distribute content posted to the Site. Helium’s rights to content you submit include the right to make editorial revisions to your content; to use in any way the materials you submit on the Helium website or in other Helium media, whether now or hereafter created; to use for our own internal business purposes; and/or to reproduce and distribute the materials for Helium’s marketing and publicity purposes.

My emphasis on what I personally would not agree to in any desperate attempt to get my content published.

Now, as I stated, I am not singling out Helium--many companies that are offering to publish with the remote possibility of paying for UGC have strange Terms or other licence agreements. Associated Content.com has a number of different content licencing/Terms of Service agreements. So many so that they can make one's head spin--but it behooves anyone who wants to publish there to read all of them and decide how much content one wants to give up. Also see this post from 3/2/07 where I compare two citizen journalism sites with NBC's "First Person" initiatives. From the NBC ToS:
All materials submitted to MSNBC (the “Submissions”) become the property of MSNBC and will not be returned. Without affecting any of your ownership rights to the Submission, by submitting your Submission, you grant MSNBC an irrevocable royalty-free, worldwide right, in all media (now known or later developed) to use, publish, alter or otherwise exploit your Submission and to sublicense such rights to a licensee at MSNBC’s discretion

But the whole scheme of little or non-existent pay and loss of rights is very similar to another time period and another industry. Mark and I had a quick email conversation this a.m. about these various requests by both New Media and Old Media for UGC in many ways reflects what happened in the record industry in the 1950's and 1960's. That particular industry made similar requests of various artists--some of whom would become one-or-more hit wonders. Many artists lost control--and income--from there work, while third parties and big corporations reaped the rewards.

This has also been the case with models. In most recent memory, Jane Bainter, the inspiration for Jane's Addiction, has claimed that she was never compensated for the profits made on numerous re-prints of her iconic image...

So, there are many ways, and many instances, in which one is only thinking of the moment--that it's great to give over one's articles, or one's short stories, or songs or even images of oneself--to another entity, thinking that it's either a cool thing to do, or it will help get one's foot in the door, or for a myriad of other reasons.

But, on some level, these reasons, IMO, just don't add up when it looks like someone else might either make a good profit, or might re-purpose my content to eventually make some money from it.

As for disclosure: yes, I do occasionally give free content to Poynter.org's E-Media TidBits column. Poynter, for me, is a good way to get my name and thoughts out to a particular audience. I'm not pressured to feeling like I *must* contribute there--it's when I feel I want to contribute. I also get some editorial oversight. Clips on Poynter carry a bit of "weight"--and can be viewed as publishing creds. Poynter is also a 501(c)3, so payment isn't necessarily expected.

So, there are indeed instance where giving free content to particular outlets can be beneficial. But whether or not one's going to benefit should be weighed against what one may, potentially, be giving up.

Lest one wake up in the morning and find oneself not just hungover, but also feeling a tad cheated...

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