Your access to and use of the Site may be interrupted from time to time as a result of equipment malfunction, updating, maintenance or repair of the Site or any other reason within or outside the control of the company. The company reserves the right to suspend or discontinue the availability of the Site and/or any Service and/or remove any Content at any time at its sole discretion and without prior notice. The company may also impose limits on certain features and Services or restrict your access to parts of or all of the Site and the Services without notice or liability.
Any idea what all the above just means? Did you fall asleep while reading it? Sadly, this is what a pretty typical Terms of Service looks like – you know, the boring, inscrutable legalese that lays out the relationship between you, the user, and the service in question. No one reads these things, yet you’re beholden to them whether you like it or not.
The startup just rolled out new paid membership offerings on Monday to cater to casual shutterbugs, whereas before the company had focused primarily on professional photographers. And for those new users, who are just looking to get the gist of things – and who are less concerned, perhaps, with the IP rights surrounding their photos – 500px’s Terms are a welcome sight.
When you visit 500px.com/terms, the actual Terms of Service are written in full-on lawyer mode on the left-hand side of the page, while the spirit behind them is explained in brief, everyday language on the right.
For example, while it took a lawyer two paragraphs to explain what 500px is in a section called “Description of Service,” the short and sweet “Basically” section wraps it up in a sentence:
We provide services that allow you to create portfolios and we will develop more features and services in the future.
Duh. That’s easy.
Seriously, startups – why isn’t everyone doing this?
After all, Terms of Service are kind of a big deal. It only makes sense that users should understand them.
Case in point: Pinterest recently had to update its Terms of Service to clarify how it can commercially use the information posted on the site, in an effort better convey the spirit behind its words. Apparently, the part about selling users’ content angered some folks, prompting CEO Ben Silbermann to explain, “our original Terms stated that by posting content to Pinterest you grant Pinterest the right for us to sell your content. Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.”
Big companies are not immune from wordy Terms of Service changes that leave users scratching their heads, either. For example, Netflix recently changed its Terms to say that users can’t sue ’em while OnStar ominously updated its Terms in the fall to say it could track users without consent – something that sounded at the time like a huge violation of user privacy. Both companies could have certainly benefitted from a plain language explainer.
But before everyone jumps on the bandwagon of simple TOS pages, there is something important to point out here. If this did become a more common occurrence, most users would likely just read the basic version, which leaves room for the company to sneak the more questionable parts of the agreement into the legalese, knowing that few would ever spot it there.
As noted over on Hacker News (which spotted 500px’s TOS early this morning and now has an interesting discussion going), 500px’s simple Terms seem to leave out an important clause:
The license granted to 500px includes the right to use your Content fully
or partially for promotional reasons and to distribute and redistribute your Content to other parties, web-sites, applications, and other entities (…)
It’s the same sort of clause that once had professional photographers up in arms over Google+, for what it’s worth. And it could be just a miss on 500px’s part to leave something like that in the long version, but for its professional users (who do in fact care about these things), seeing it not mentioned in the simplified explanation is cause for concern.
In addition to the above clause, both versions also seem to lack details on how DMCA violations will be handled, we should note.
As San Francisco-based pro photographer Jim Goldstein of JMG Galleries explains, “the one pitfall [with using a basic version] is that a simplified version can never cover every intricacy of the original document. That does create some holes,” he says. “500px certainly deserves some credit for trying something new. I’m sure their tactic will make some lawyers a little uneasy and certainly will not placate the concern of every photographer out there, but I think it’s a start and a great idea.”
UPDATE: Aviary reached out to note they’ve been doing this for years. Awesome, guys. Who’s next?