Your assignment

I was reading the news on CBC.ca and noticed their “Your Assignment” sidebar item. They ask for community input in the form of photographs, video, stories, and tips. Encouraging submissions in the spirit of community involvement and getting everyone involved sure sounds warm and fuzzy! That’s one way to look at it. One can also see it as getting members of the public to help them and even do work for them, for free of course. Thinking of how inequitable the exchange probably is, I set out to see if my suspicions were correct.

The submission guidelines say:

Your submissions may be published on various parts of CBC.ca, and may even be included in our stories at times. They may also be used on CBC radio or television.

We reserve the right to identify you by name and city of residence when using your submissions (i.e. John Doe from Toronto says…).

By submitting your content, you grant us the non-exclusive right to use your content royalty-free.

The submissions portion of the terms of use is a little more verbose:

By posting or uploading Submissions to the Web site, you grant CBC/Radio Canada a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, irrevocable, unrestricted, worldwide license to: (i) use, reproduce, store, adapt, translate, modify, make derivative works from, transmit, distribute, publicly perform or display such Submissions for any purpose; and (ii) to sublicense to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the foregoing rights. In addition to the grant of the above license, you hereby (i) agree to waive all moral rights in any Submission in favour of CBC/Radio Canada; (ii) consent to your name, address and e-mail appearing as the contributor of any Submission, where applicable, and to the disclosure and/or display of such information and any other information which appears in or is associated with a Submission; (iii) acknowledge and agree that CBC/Radio Canada is not responsible for any loss, damage, or corruption that may occur to your Submissions; and (iv) acknowledge and agree that any Submissions you provide for display on the Web site will be considered non-confidential.

It seems the only thing they do not claim is ownership of your submission. You keep that, but they can do anything else you can do. They can use your submission in any way, change it, allow others to use it, all for as long as they want. Since I generated the submission and am receiving exactly nothing for it, I don’t consider this an acceptable agreement. This is especially true since you can get compensation for submissions if you approach a news organization as a freelancer would. I’ve called the local newspaper’s photo desk before, and they certainly do pay for newsworthy photographs.

I think this is the key distinction. They’ll pay for valuable images, but they don’t expect valuable images to be submitted by the general public. So, they’ll certainly harvest free submissions and use what they can. If they happen to get something newsworthy, they’ll happily use it for free. Why not?

But can you use CBC content for yourself? According to the permissions FAQ:

Any content (text, photos, interactives, graphs, audio and video) found on CBC.ca can only be reused elsewhere with the permission of CBC.

Strictly speaking, this is not true. Like ‘fair use’ in the United States, Canadian copyright law has a concept called ‘fair dealing’ that does allow use of copyrighted material without permission. Fair dealing only applies in limited circumstances, but the CBC claiming that their content can only be used with explicit permission is false.

So give them all of your work, but they don’t even want you to exercise your own rights under the law when it comes to their work.

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