Ask Dr. Copyright

Dear Doc:

The spouse and I recently visited New York City, and while there, we went to see the “Vessel“, which is “an interactive staircase and art installation located at Hudson Yards”. It was interesting, but I felt uneasy because I felt that by going there, I was somehow giving up a lot of my rights. Can you enlighten me?

Vessel Vassal

Dear VV:

The Doc has checked into your unease, and by golly, you’re right! Your visit to this giant staircase actually resulted in you having to give up a lot of intellectual property rights. When you bought a ticket, you entered into a contract that had a lot of T’s & C’s (that’s official lawyer talk for “terms and conditions”.) Some were pretty vanilla, like you assumed the risk of falling down some of these 154 staircases. Others were not so expected. 

For instance, you agreed that you could be filmed, photographed, or recorded, and that any media showing you was the property of the company that owns the Vessel, to do with what they please, when they please, forever. They can even sell this stuff to anyone they want. As if that were not bad enough, if you took any photos or videos and posted them to “social media”, you also gave the Vessel company free rights to “re-post, share, publish, promote and distribute” your post (even if you only shared it with your friends…there is just no such thing as privacy any more!).

Another goody that you agreed to: “Guests may take personal photographs and personal video within the Vessel solely for their private, personal, and noncommercial use. Guests may not publish, sell, reproduce, transfer, distribute, or otherwise commercially exploit videos and photographs except as expressly permitted in the Agreement. Company must approve the creation of any commercial media, commercial photography or commercial video in advance in writing.” So forget selling any of those amazing skyline photos that you took, or putting them on coffee mugs, T shirts, or key chains. You can’t do that.

Oh, and lastly, in case you were thinking that you’d just go old school and paint the amazing skyline of New York from your perch at the top of Vessel, you can do pencil, pastel or charcoal sketches, but don’t even think about oil paints, watercolors, or markers. You gave up those rights, too.

The Doc thinks that soon, companies will be putting software in our phones and digital cameras that uses GPS signals and artificial intelligence to block our taking photos and videos of anything on private property, or to which a claim of copyright has been asserted (like the light show on the Eiffel Tower) Couple that with the fact that we no longer own a lot of the things that we think we bought (like the software than runs your car) and pretty soon the signs in store windows will have to proclaim “CLEARANCE LICENSE” instead of clearance sale. Now THAT will be truth in advertising.

Have a sticky patent, copyright, trademark or other intellectual property issue? The attorneys at LW&H eat those for breakfast.  Talk to them.

Until next month,

The “Doc” 

— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.