Hotel Chain Attempts to Trick Photographer Into Granting Rights to Use, Sell and License His Images

Hotel Chain Attempts to Trick Photographer Into Granting Rights to Use, Sell and License His Images

A photographer is warning others after an encounter with a Hilton-owned hotel recently, which saw the company try to deceptively obtain the rights to use his images freely, including to sell. The company tried to entice him to allow them to "share" the image, but the fine print revealed it would allow the hotel to use the images for profit any way they wished.

Houston-based wedding photographer Ben Sassani was visiting New York, later posting images he took during a helicopter flight to his Instagram page. Before long, the account of the Conrad New York Midtown hotel, owned by the Hilton group, commented. It said:

@bensassani! We are sharing our favorite NYC views and would love to share this photo on our platforms providing you with credit. If we have your permission, please reply to this comment with #AgreeConrad. Terms of Use: HiltonIGRules.com. Thank you!

View this post on Instagram

Icon status

A post shared by Ben Sassani (@bensassani) on

Upon digging a little deeper within the website the hotel had mentioned, Sassani unearthed some disturbing details. Speaking to PetaPixel, he recalled:

After reading the fine print, they essentially would be able to use the photo to profit in any shape or form they’d like (if) once I agree.

By simply responding back to the comment with the hashtag #AgreeConrad, the site reveals a user would be allowing the hotel group to use the image “on the [hotel’s] website or in other marketing, advertising or promotions,” and worse, would mean a user had granted “non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, and fully sublicensable right” to not only use but also sell the works. Alarming, to say the least.

After missing the comment, the hotel sent Sassani a direct message. He then posted about the hotel’s fine print on his Instagram Stories. The hotel spotted the post and responded. The exchange, provided to Fstoppers by Sassani, went as follows:

PetaPixel also spoke to NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher in order to shed some light. Osterreicher confirms Sassani had reason to be taken aback and that the contract on the hotel’s site also seems to “place all the liability for any improper use by Hilton on the photographer submitting the work.”

A valuable lesson in always reading the small print!

Lead image courtesy Ben Sassani and used with permission. See more of Sassani's work at his website and Instagram

Log in or register to post comments

52 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Treat everyone as a potential thieving gypsy bastard by default.
It's a nice surprise when they aren't but at least you save yourself an eyeroll when they are.

Just one tip available in my award winning masterclass on getting on in life.

Yin Ze's picture

Hey Con-rad, Thanks for sharing my favorite NYC view( https://www.instagram.com/p/B6s4ISxB0x1/): truly sleek design and impeccable comfort. "Reply to this message with #FREECONRAD to grant me a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable right to stay in that room for # credit on any photos I post of that room on instagram."

Daniel Haußmann's picture

The title of the article is wrong. It should say "Hotel chains ....". At least Radisson runs a similar approach. The terms seem similar.

michaeljinphoto's picture

Is it a "trick" if all of the terms are in writing beforehand?

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Doesn't matter if one sees it as a trick or what else. They contacted him offering zero in exchange.

michaeljinphoto's picture

If they can find photographers willing to give them their work for nothing, all the more power to them. It's smart business on the hotel's part.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

May be smart business but not smart enough to get that good shot. Is it really smart to have your name exposed all over the photography industry negatively?

michaeljinphoto's picture

"May be smart business but not smart enough to get that good shot."
Plenty of very talented photographers in the world are more than happy to give away their work for free. These companies don't care about top-notch custom content. They just need stuff that's good enough to fill their IG feed. If it's good enough to print on a brochure or something, then that's just a bonus.

"Is it really smart to have your name exposed all over the photography industry negatively?"
I doubt that it matters all that much. Do you think photographers are going to refuse to do business with them over this? Maybe a few, but not enough for it to register.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

That's about education. Michael give your house for free, and see if I care. I don't think any amateur or pro photographer would care if you give everything you own for free. But are you going to do it? You know if you give it all for free, you could really make it big in the news if free exposure REALLY is your motto.
And by the way, no I would certainly not refuse to do business with Hilton, I'd take their money and probably would charge a little more than usual now and I would ask to be paid before releasing any image. Would this be wrong?
"These companies don't care about top-notch custom content" So, question, why did they ask for his professional work that clearly involved special access to buildings or use of a helicopter? And again, why did they come back with a second email if they "don't care about don't care about top-notch custom content?" Simple, they do care.

michaeljinphoto's picture

You're reading far too much into this. This wasn't some calculated initiative by the company to screw this photographer. It's a social media manager seeing a pretty picture and asking, "Hey, can we use that?". The people devaluing photography aren't corporations like this. It's other photographers that are doing it.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Who cares about the social media manager? If he represent the company he is the company when he sends the request. Clearly the SMM did not introduce himself or left his name. How do you determine who did what? What else do you do you see in your Chrystal ball for 2020?

michaeljinphoto's picture

I know because anyone with a shred of logic can probably guess that they're not bringing this stuff up in board meetings. It's likely a relatively low-level decision so you can go ahead and remove your tin foil hat. Whoever runs their social media probably sends these kinds of requests to thousands of people a year - professionals and amateurs alike.

As for who cares about the social media manager, I imagine that there are at least a few people in that person's life that cares about them. Who cares about you? I can assure you not any of these businesses, so feel free to rage all you want about their practices. Maybe you should take all this energy and write them a sternly worded handwritten letter.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

There you go next you run the entire Hilton! Congratulations on your 2020 resolution.

michaeljinphoto's picture

Are you on drugs or something? Serious question.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Sure what ever you say.

Kevin Harding's picture

"The people devaluing photography aren't corporations like this"

Actually it's exactly companies like this. And many more besides who just want to save money.
Which is why copyright theft of images is so prevalent.

Kevin Harding's picture

Just work out what "just a few' means in financial terms compared to actually just buying the rights. It's a poor business and marketing decision that puts zero value on the photographer's efforts and investment.

Dave Dundas's picture

"I doubt that it matters all that much. Do you think photographers are going to refuse to do business with them over this? "

Actually, a room at that hotel costs about $255.00 per night.. So, if they were going to offer the paltry sum of $1000.00 for that image (which really is way less than it would go for commercial usage, but would at least be a small nod towards the artist, far more so than "Hey can we use this for free forever?)), it would only take 4 photographers not to stay there for 1 night. There's already 46 comments here, and I, for one, won't be staying there on my next trip to NY, even though it's well within my price range. I doubt the photographer that shot this will either, so that's 50% of the way there to having a negative impact. It may not be millions on the bottom line, but ya, I do think this kind of negative publicity hurts them.

Les Sucettes's picture

Michael - you are really about splitting hairs aren’t you. So here it comes: Its abusive behaviour by a Hotel Chain to use their Pro Legal Team and contact one (wo)man businesses and probably a lot of non-professionals to solicit works for free. There is no way to turn this into a positive light. The only reason they got caught is because they were dealing with a professional.

Here is the thing - if you believe democratic societies are there for citizens, then there is no way this is acceptable. If however you think society is there to support business before people, then yeah everything goes as ling as it is in Legalese.

I think most people living in a Democracy would agree that the point of Democratic Society is that it puts people first (all within reason and law of course). Apparently in the US and Britain citizen rights, and having a citizen first approach are increasingly being eroded. If they are gone then really there’s little difference to living in a dictatorship, a dictat of major corporations who always will be at an advantage versus small businesses and individuals.

michaeljinphoto's picture

Wow.. You managed to go from a hotel looking for some free photos for IG to talking about democracy and dictatorships. Bravo.

Les Sucettes's picture

Yep. It’s a difference in core attitude. Again what is your point. Do you believe in a citizen first approach or a corporate first approach. Simple. Everything has to do with what your values are.

Scott Appleton's picture

I have to go with Michael on this one. Conrad approached Mr..Sassani with all it’s cards on the table, he did (what I would consider) a smart thing and refused the terms. No harm, no foul. End of story. The part I find unfortunate is Mr. Sassani’s petulant response and FStoppers willingness to promote it.

Kate Henderson's picture

Anyone interested in photographing this jackass? For free?

michaeljinphoto's picture

Children shouldn't use naughty words.

Jeff Walsh's picture

I avoid those, "Comment back #permission if we can use your photo," responses. At first glance they seem like a cool, upfront way to approach content creators, but as seen in this article granting "permission" doesn't stop at a repost.

At least it's not as bad as those, "let's colab" and the colab is you buying their products the end.

Scott Appleton's picture

This is a great lesson in "reading the fine print", however Mr. Sassani failed to realize that he already gave away his usage rights for this photo to Instagram/Facebook for free the second he uploaded it. And now he is complaining because another company asked him to use it first? Ironically, Instagram can now sub let or even charge Conrad for this photo with no legal recourse by Mr. Sassani. Finally, why does FStoppers/Mr. Alexander feel it is appropriate to promote such unprofessionalism? There was (and still is) a fantastic opportunity for an article of some merit on the trappings of social media and business permissions/licensing (as well as the ability to rise above them in a professional manner) lurking here.

Conrad 1- Mr. Sassani 0

Les Sucettes's picture

Facebook needs to be regulated. I cannot believe they are getting away with this, still today

Johnny Rico's picture

Way to maintain professionalism there kid

More comments