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: Thank you!

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

Jack Alexander's picture

A 28-year-old self-taught photographer, Jack Alexander specialises in intimate portraits with musicians, actors, and models.

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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.

Hey Con-rad, Thanks for sharing my favorite NYC view( 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."

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

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

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

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.

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?

"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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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

Are you on drugs or something? Serious question.

Sure what ever you say.

"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.

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.

"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.

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.

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

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.

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.

U r a douche

Anyone interested in photographing this jackass? For free?

Children shouldn't use naughty words.

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.

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

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

Are you an attorney?

Way to maintain professionalism there kid

Look at his instagram stories, super professional there too. He is trying to be edgy but looks lame AF.

That's pretty hilarious. They're asking for all those permissions and then say "we promise not to do what the contract legally allows us to do". That's like somebody asking for your house keys and promising to never go inside without your permission.

At least they were willing to keep it “non-exclusive “...

I certainly don't like the language used to reply to the other side....keep it professional and just say no.

Better yet...don't reply at all and monitor their account periodically to ensure that they didn't go ahead and use it anyway.

My free advice is to not use coarse language in a business setting, especially if it is in "writing". Not even charging my usual "two cents worth" for such stellar advice.

"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.”."

I am absolutely not a lawyer, but I didn't read any such liability assignment. The only "hold harmless and release" is specifically upon claims directly from you: "you or your heirs, representatives, executors, administrators, or any other persons acting on your behalf or on behalf of your estate"

Though I suppose this is more vague: "You acknowledge that Hilton is not responsible for, and has no liability for, any use of all or any part of a Submission.".

As I said, absolutely not a lawyer.

"A valuable lesson in always reading the small print!"

It didn't seem that small, right there in the reply, "Here, go to our website"

Liability disclaimer is pretty standard. They don't want to be liable if he stole the picture from somebody else.

Very nice photo. Would be great in the hotel's portfolio. Would have been smart of them to buy it. No telling when another like it will come along. Maybe never if they want it for free.

Might save them from looking at dozens of cell phone photos. Why waste your time if you see what you want? You can stop looking.

Hotel chains are the worst. I've had several in my city use images without even asking, even after being told "no" multiple times on previous requests. And they do it CONSTANTLY. But I also got Hilton to pay almost $700 for a single social media post after I invoiced them for a license fee and unauthorized use. And it wasn't even one of their corporate or global feeds, it was a local account for a specific hotel. If it had been one of their primary accounts, that amount would have been much higher.

Pay attention people, these places can and WILL pay up when it comes down to it, and there's no doubt they have the budget. Stop assuming there's no budget just because they ask to use it for free. You may have to be persistent in order to collect, but in my case that just meant sending a couple of emails and googling for internal email addresses at the company.

That being said, they'll probably take you a little more seriously if you don't tell them to go f*** themselves.

F*** yourself just shows that photographer is not a pro. Nor the mentioning of how much was spent on ticket to NY , helicopter ride or equipment. Unless hotel specifically asked you to buy equipment and fly to NY to take a picture your expense for your trip has nothing to do with a value of your image.

The hotel might not know that that’s what went into getting that photo, but he’s totally within his rights to tell them to fuck off and list the expenses that went into getting the shot when they ask for free shit and unlimited rights to it.

Imagine you spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars building a track car, and a giant company came and asked to borrow it and slap their logos on it. For free.

*Or actually you built that car, won a race with it, and they asked you to put their name on the photo of you winning.

Something tells me that wouldn’t sit well with you.

What they asked for is pretty much standard extended license available on just about every stock image site. They didn't offer him money for it but did offer exposure that would be worth more than what they would have to pay for similar image they could purchase from many stock photos websites. Extended license commonly sold for between $19 and $89. If they opted for royalty free standard license to just use it on a social media they would pay between 50 cents and $10.
But it gets better. Lawyer was quoted that hotel "place all the liability for any improper use by Hilton on the photographer submitting the work". You know why? Because in order to sell this photo for non-editorial use photographer would have to obtain written permission from Met Life to use this photo for commercial purposes. You can take picture of anything you want but to sell your picture for commercial use to Getty or any other legitimate entity you would have to have written permission of recognizable property owner or model release if picture has recognizable people. I'm pretty sure that photographer did not have any legal rights to sell this picture for non-editorial purposes and editorial use only photos are worth dime a dozen. He was getting a really good deal, but decided to decline it in very unprofessional manner. He is a wedding photographer, so obviously he doesn't know anything about professionalism. You can up sell a bride telling her how much your equipment cost, but would real pro try to sell his work using cost of his equipment for justification?

Whenever a business and/or client contacts me via social media with a request to use (share, promote, etc) an image, I immediately direct the conversation to my email. 60% of time it works fine. 30%, I don't hear back from them after I send the contract. 10%, I don't hear from them once I instruct them to contact me via email so I can confirm who (and title) I am working with. Keep in mind, that the contract allows them to share the image on social media for free as long as they credit the photo.

PS - Thank you for sharing Jack.

I'm missing something here. A request was made and terms were provided. The photographer declined. What's the big deal? We all read any agreement that involves usage of our product in any way very carefully all the time, and accept some and reject others.

I think the issue is the inference to it being used as a casual "social media" usage, when the actual terms dictated something more and far reaching. When viewed in this sense, it very much feels like a scam to take advantage, especially when a company such as this understands the appropriate and fair value for images to be used commercially.

And right now Hilton goes straight onto my blacklist. That's something i will never accept from a company. I'd rather sleep in open air - than to spent one eurocent into a Hilton owned-business.
If you try to legalize stealing - be sure that there'll be some backlash. Radison is also added to the list, thank you for posting that one too.
Maybe i'm the only one reacting - but one may hope others make also such lists - and they'll start noticing that these terms hurt 'm. Even if it's only a few customers a year - that's more in cash than that right on one image will bring in.

"Even if it's only a few customers a year - that's more in cash than that right on one image will bring in."

That's assuming that someone else isn't going to stay in the room that you were planning to use on that given day. It also assumes that they're not saving enough money over the course on dozens or hundreds of images they source for free in a given year to offset whatever loss they incur by you and a handful of others not using them. Simply put, they're not losing any money over this.

^-- that's just bad math. Every single empty room in a hotel, is lost money, every night. Every room a photographer doesn't book because of this idiotic attempt to steal art, costs them directly on the bottom line. How much, that's up for debate, but does it cost them profits? Yes.

Michelin has a similar terms of agreement when they ask to repost restaurant photos to their guide accounts. They are more straightforward in the request and say that it would be for social, emails, and website - but the link to their terms show that it's actually a very aggressive rights grab.

Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami beach tried the same crap on me. This is a common practice. You'd be amazed how many have said yes. Check out the post and their request here

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