I thought she was crazy until it happened to me.
Amy Webb last week railed in a Slate column against parents who post any digital detail of their kids online. Despite being digitally savvy, Webb doesn’t want to create an identity for her child, she wants her child to be able to define herself on her own terms.
“With every status update, YouTube video, and birthday blog post, Kate’s parents are preventing her from any hope of future anonymity,” she wrote.
My kids have Facebook accounts, Twitter handles, and domain names. I squatted on those the day they were born and named. They have their own Gmail accounts (for now I use it as a way to keep school notices and newsletters out of my inbox).
While I have chosen to share photos, and stories about my kids – I’m trying to do it in a way where I control the content. Their Facebook and Twitter accounts are private, I own the copyright to my blogs, and the Flickr photos I post are with an all rights reserved license.
Sometimes even that isn’t enough.
Don Catt posted a picture of his daughter drinking a juice box to his Flickr page with the same license, but it didn’t stop BuzzFeed from lifting the photo and posting it in its most popular listicle of the past 2 months. The article was accessed more than 4 million times without permission being granted to use Catt’s photo.
When you put anything online there is a chance it will be co-opted and be interpreted to become part of the public domain. Unless you have sophisticated monitoring of keywords set up, you’ll likely never know if any of your content has been “lifted.” It becomes even more difficult with photos.
So it’s scenarios like what Catt experienced that have people like Webb acting cautiously. It should serve as warning to us all.
Then you have the other side, where you give your photo freely to organization for one purpose, only to see it used for something else. And it’s all legal.
When I entered my son’s photo in a Cheerios contest in 2010 to win a $10,000 College Fund, I was excited to come in 2nd. Even though we didn’t get any money, we would see my son’s face on Cheerios boxes across Canada. Cool!
In order for that to happen, I had to sign a waiver for General Mills to use the image “in perpetuity.” In the moment of excitement, I signed it, not thinking the photo’s use would go beyond promotion of the original contest.
Fast forward to October 2012 and we get a call saying my son’s photo is going to be used again. He was part of a big Facebook campaign where users submitted photos of their kids to make a mosaic of my Charlie. A year later that mosaic is now on Cheerios boxes across the country.
After sharing the bragging rights that my son was a 2 time face of Cheerios, some suggested I go after some compensation. I mean, if Charlie’s face was so good to use a second time, why didn’t he win the first contest? Maybe the company would be willing to offer an honorarium to his college fund as compensation for the second use.
I contacted General Mills, I contacted a lawyer, and both came to the conclusion that “in perpetuity” meant forever, and that’s a mighty long time.
General Mills said they were acting within the framework of the release and would offer no further compensation. Fair enough. It’s the legal response one would expect, not the neighborly one I was hoping for.
The promotion my son is currently pimping is yet another user submitted contest where people are offered a $1 off coupon in exchange for submitting photos of their kids eating Cheerios. I cannot urge you enough NOT to enter the contest. You are trading your kid’s image “in perpetuity” for a dollar. It’s not worth it.
Don Catt managed to squeeze a $500 donation out of BuzzFeed for using his image illegally. They got off easy. I would have loved to have squeezed a $500 RESP donation out of General Mills for the second use of my son’s face. I can’t, because lawyers.
You never think it will happen to you until it does. Own your content. Protect your copyright. Don’t enter your kids in photo contests.
Bragging Rights 1 of 7
That and a few thousand dollars will put your kid through college. Click through to see how one image has turned into a big campaign for General Mills and nothing but pride for my son.
Wall of Cheerios 2 of 7
This was how we found out our son was the 2-time face of Cheerios. The company has rights to the image "in perpetuity." We didn't know the boxes were being released until we saw them in the grocery store.
2-Time Face of Cheerios 3 of 7
The picture on the left is his first appearance on Cheerios, the box on the right is the second use of the same image. Much bigger, he is "the face of the franchise," and yet we received no compensation because, lawyers.
Because Lawyers 4 of 7
This is the clause that killed me. Read it before you sign it, yes. But understand every little word too. In perpetuity is forever.
How Times Have Changed 5 of 7
That's the original image on the left, taken in summer 2010. Now, some 3 years later, Charlie's a much bigger kid. It's a great example of just how much time has passed since Cheerios got the image and how much longer they could still use the image, without ever compensating us.
More Than Just Boxes 6 of 7
Charlie was also used as the General Mills Facebook avatar for a period and his face currently adorns the Cheerios.ca homepage, as well as pitches to bloggers as the brand promotes their content with sponsored content. It should be noted, I am not part of this promtional campaign.
More To Come? 7 of 7
When I signed the release, General Mills and TD Canada Trust were listed as contest sponsors. While General Mills has come back for a second helping of the photo, TD hasn't - yet. At any time, in perpetuity, my son could be used to market the bank and we won't see a dime. And that includes any sort of photoshopping they want. Charlie wasn't orginally wearing a "Cheerios" onesie, they wiped the cute little whale out and branded him on their own.