Following Outcry, Hudson Yards Tweaks Policy Over Use of Vessel Pictures

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Shaunie Begley and Christine Bottross stood Tuesday on the steps outside the Vessel, the sprawling, ovalish 150-foot-high steel structure connected to the recently opened Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side.

Ms. Begley posed for a picture as Ms. Bottross snapped away on her camera. She posed again. Another picture. And again, with a slightly different hand gesture this time. On and on this went for several minutes.

Both called themselves “Instagrammers,” and their carefully curated photos were destined to be consumed by the nearly 90,000 followers they have between them.

And, possibly, by one very big real estate development.

Questions over who controls a person’s social-media content soaked the Vessel in an internet rainstorm this week after the website Gothamist reported on a curious and, some legal experts said, aggressive assertion of copyright by Hudson Yards, the Vessel’s owner.

In its terms of service, which are not posted on the property but are available online, Hudson Yards said that it had the right to use any picture taken in the vicinity of the art installation for commercial purposes, with no royalty fees and no restrictions, forever.

Or, in legal speak, by posting your Vessel selfie on Twitter you were giving the company “the irrevocable, unrestricted, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, sublicensable, and transferable right and license to use, display, reproduce, perform, modify, transmit, publish and distribute such photographs, audio recordings or video footage for any purpose whatsoever in any and all media (in either case, now known or developed later).”

You also “further authorize Company to store such images on a database and transfer such images to third parties in conjunction with security and marketing procedures undertaken by the Vessel.”

It is not unusual for a privately-owned attraction to use visitors’ photos in its own promotions. But Domenic Romano, a New York lawyer specializing in entertainment law, said that Hudson Yards wasn’t “just asking for the right to use the photos or reshare them on their own social media channels.”

“They were basically claiming ownership over the underlying materials,” he said.

After much social media derision that was not likely to become part of any Hudson Yards marketing, the development said on Monday it would be “refining the language to be more clear.”

And it did. Now visitors “retain ownership of any photographs, text, audio recordings or video footage depicting or relating to the Vessel” that they create.

But if you want to send that photo out to your Instagram fans, you still “hereby grant to Company and its affiliates the right to repost, share, publish, promote and distribute the Vessel Media via such social media channel and via websites associated with the Vessel or Hudson Yards (including my name, voice and likeness and any other aspects of my persona as depicted in the Vessel Media), in perpetuity.”

It was a slight tweak — but one that was more similar to what most museums and other public venues currently have, according to Mr. Romano.

“It’s the difference between use and owning the underlying right exclusively,” Mr. Romano said.

In a statement on Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Hudson Yards said: “As we are a new destination, we wanted to over communicate, be transparent and disclose to all users that we may reshare select social posts on our social channels and website that visitors have already shared publicly on their social channels. This is a process undertaken at major attractions around the city and country.”

Ms. Bottross, taking a quick break from instructing Ms. Begley on how to pose, said she was not aware of the hubbub over what control Hudson Yards had or did not have over photos they would share online.

“But sure, they can use it,” Ms. Bottross said of her photos.

Ms. Begley said she had no problem, either — and hoped the developer would direct people to where the photos came from. “Can they @ me?” she said, laughing.