Running on dirt.

Your Hashtags are Giving Companies Permission to Steal Your Photos AND Copyrights

User Generated Content.

If you make on honest living as a creative, you’ve probably learned to loathe the term “user generated content”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this new marketing term… User generated content is content that is published online by an end user, and then gets republished. Often republished from commercial entities like tourism boards, hotels, and clothing or equipment brands.

Pre instagram, commercial organizations would allot a percentage of their earnings to be spent on marketing. Then a fraction of that marketing budget would be assigned to hiring a professional photographer or filmmaker. Said photographer or filmmaker would be commissioned to create a marketing campaign specifically tailored to the brands vision.

They’re stealing the one thing no photographer would ever sell too.

Today, in large, commercial companies have worked out a way to legally steal your photographs, instead of hiring you to create them. They’re not just stealing your photos either. They’re actually stealing the one thing a photographer would never ever sell, the copyrights to their photographs.

How they’re doing it.

They’re counting on you basically being too lazy to look at the fine print. All of these companies have their terms pertaining to user generated content hidden deep inside their websites. Not on Instagram where they intend to steal your work. Definitely not in plain site either.

The paragraph below is a screenshot from the outdoor apparel brand Fjallraven. This is their “terms and conditions” for user submissions. User submissions is what they consider to be anyone whom tags their account or uses their companies hashtags. The hashtags they promote and encourage everyone to use to “share their adventurers.”.

Here’s the important bit.

In connection with User Submissions, you affirm, represent, and warrant that you own and have the right to assign and transfer to Fjällräven, without permission or consent of any third party, all right and interest in the User Submissions and in the intellectual property, and any other proprietary right, contained therein without limitation.

C. By tendering the User Submissions to Fjällräven, you warrant, represent and agree that all intellectual property rights contained in the User Submissions, including all copyright, trademark, trade secret, and any other proprietary rights are thereby assigned and transferred to Fjällräven without any further documentation and that Fjällräven shall thereafter be the sole and exclusive owner of the User Submissions and of all intellectual property rights and proprietary rights contained there without exception or limitation.

By tendering the User Submissions, you warrant, represent and agree that Fjällräven shall have the sole and exclusive right of use of any and all patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other proprietary rights in and to the User Submissions without limitation.

I’ll break that down.

In other words, all you need to do to “submit” your photo, and give Fjallraven complete ownership of your intellectual property, is to to post an image on your account and use their hashtag. #fjallraven and #natureiswaiting.

Most users hashtag their favourite brands as a way to share photos in their niche community.

Since all these organizations have learned that users are so keen to share their photos with them to be republished. It’s made exploiting users even further just as easy. Now, instead of just sharing your photos and basically acquiring free social media marketing. These companies are stealing your copyrights so they can use your stolen photos for all of their marketing needs.

They used my photos for facebook ads and marketing ads.

I used Fjallraven’s hashtag on Instagram. Instead of simply sharing my photos on their accounts. I found them running Facebook ads and marketing ads with them. I’ve had work stolen before. So I promptly sent their marketing a cease and desist letter. The letter stating they had the option to pay for the photos they were using, or to immediately stop advertising with them.

This was the response I received:

This is one company among thousands and thousands.

I’m picking on Fjallraven because they’re the only company I have personal experience with. However, I’ve since taken the time to research other brands who encourage their users to hashtag them. I won’t list them all here because the list goes is infinite.

I can guarantee you that most of the hashtags you’re using right now are giving permission to random companies to take your copyright. Making money from your intellectual property and unique vision.

Stop using hashtags by companies, tourism boards, hotels, etc.

User generated content is saving massive corporations millions of dollars on marketing every single year. Instagram is now the largest advertising platform in the world. Thanks to us photographers who simply want to share our memories, favourite travel moments, or online portfolios. Now commerce and greed has followed close behind.

Your work has value. Know the value and charge what you’re worth. Most importantly, protect your assets. If you’re a photographer, your most important assets are your photographs and your intellectual property.

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