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In recent years, New York’s Hudson Yards neighborhood has been the location of a real estate development including a large number of homes, offices and retail premises. The Vessel, also known as “New York’s staircase,” is part of this project, a construction of staircases connected by platforms and landings.

On March 15, the curious honeycombed structure opened its doors to the public, subject to the purchase of a ticket. The back of the ticket included wording on the tacit acceptance of the terms and conditions of the visit.

Those terms and conditions included two clauses that were swiftly picked up and shared on social media and the mainstream media outlets. They established that Hudson Yards reserved the right and license to use, display, reproduce, perform, modify, transmit, publish and distribute any content created, published or uploaded that showed or was related to the Vessel as it wished and indefinitely.

Also, if the user liked, shared or sent photos, video footage or audio recordings related to the structure, Hudson Yards held the right to use the user’s name, image and voice for any commercial end considered appropriate, with no time limit.

We can imagine how surprised tourists might be to read this and realize that Hudson Yard could use the audio recordings they send their friends via WhatsApp telling them about their experience on the Vessel, for its own profit and without limits.

A change of mind

Given the public backlash and the negative publicity created by the policy, a spokesperson for the Vessel stated that the terms and conditions for visitors had been written in line with those used for similar attractions. The spokesperson stated that, as the Vessel was a new destination, “we wanted to over communicate, be transparent and disclose to all users that we may re-share select social posts on our social channels and website that visitors have already shared publicly on their social channels.”

Hudson Yards has since changed the wording of the clauses. The clauses now specify that visitors exclusively own the photos and videos they take, and that Hudson Yards only reserves the right to “amplify and re-share” social media posts.

Digital publication Bloomberg reported that the director of the Intellectual Property Law Center at St. John’s University said that the changes were not necessary, because companies use that sort of language all the time. He further added that “All of those people using social media have already signed away lots of rights just by clicking ‘accept’ in the terms and conditions.”

The former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the Gothamist that “when these large companies and LLCs are getting public tax benefits or subsidies… perhaps elected officials should be putting in language that limits the erosion of the public’s rights, because the public generally takes some of these rights for granted.”

The debate is ongoing, and many people are wondering about similar cases that may crop up in future. What is certain is that, for now, when visitors of the Vessel take their photos, they need worry only about whether their eyes will be closed.

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