Houzz Has Your Image Rights, How Long Before They’re Selling Them?

- - Working

It may already be too late. Houzz appears to be using the images posted by professional photographers to illustrate editorial stories they create for the front of the site. One photographer was contacted by a staff writer to find out who built what was depicted in the images with no mention of licensing the images for this reuse.

It’s not unusual for social media sites to have onerous terms when it comes to posting your images on their site. Generally this is because they have to host the images on servers which may be located anywhere in the world and repost the images at will for other people to see. To solve this they take all your rights… We’re all suspicious of what might come next but so far that’s been the extent of what they do.

Houzz has taken the first step in reuse that should be of great concern for professional photographers. Paying writers to create editorial content with images uploaded to the site competes directly with existing editorial outlets that pay for a similar use. So not only are they ripping off photographers they’re stealing readers from outlets with their free content. And as Houzz works towards a profitable business model they will start selling advertising against their freely obtained content… and their evil plan will be complete.

I’ve written about this before but it’s worth mentioning again. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Houzz, et al have not reinvented the wheel here (despite all the talk about new business models). They’ve simply discovered a lower cost way to obtain content: free (the business model of free has been around forever). And they’re now selling advertising against that content which is no different than how the New York Times, GQ, etc. operate. Except of course, those guys all pay for their content.

Photographer Caren Alpert first alerted me to the Terms on houzz.com:

“As part of your use of the Website, you may participate in certain ideabooks, message boards, member communications and/or other public forums. Your participation is voluntary; however, by choosing to create ideabooks, post photos or comments, send any messages, submit any ideas or feedback, or otherwise participate in any Houzz forum, you acknowledge and agree that any postings, messages, text, photos, audio/visual works, information, suggestions, feedback, reviews or content provided by you (collectively, “Content”) may be viewed by the general public and will not be treated as private, proprietary or confidential, and you authorize us and our affiliates, licensees and sublicensees, without compensation to you or others, to copy, adapt, create derivative works of, reproduce, incorporate, distribute, publicly display or otherwise use or exploit such Content throughout the world in any format or media (whether now known or hereafter created) for the duration of any copyright or other rights in such Content, and such permission shall be perpetual and may not be revoked for any reason. Further, to the extent permitted under applicable law, you waive and release and covenant not to assert any moral rights that you may have in any Content posted or provided by you.”

There Are 22 Comments On This Article.

  1. Once we deliver the images to our clients, we cannot ask them to use them online with watermarks all over them.

    The clients take our images and post them all over social media without any contact information leading back to THEM, or US.

    Once uploaded to social media, the file names change, metadata is removed, and the images become or orphan works. This is been going on for years now.

  2. The example is for Facebook, but this happens on any social media platform; Houzz, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, 500px etc etc etc

    They all have the same predatory terms.

  3. This puts a burden on designers and vendors that have images of their work made, but licensed only for their own promotional use. These rights don’t extend to a third party like Houzz.

    I’m no rocket lawyer, but could that put Houzz in a liable position? Regardless of the ToS, our client has no authority to sign over any other rights to the images for Houzz to do whatever they want with it.

    This is somewhat different than most social media where the uploader is the creator and the ToS has a caveat that a person is to only upload media they own outright.

    • Good point. It’s similar to the problem pinterest has. I think they put they tell the person uploading they must have the rights to do so but of course nobody reads those.

      • True, at least with pinterest it’s just user to user most of the time and not corporate produced editorial content.

        I think Houzz is on shaky ground (no pun intended). It makes more business sense to at least ask the copyright holder before publishing the content as their particular user base will often have images they don’t own outright.

        And it’s in their best interest to encourage their users to have professional images because the overall quality experience goes up.

  4. Personally, I don’t mind Houzz using the my photos in an editorial context on its own website. I would accept that as a quid pro quo for free marketing on their site. What would bother me is if they started licensing content to third parties without permission of the copyright holder. In any case, I watermark the images I post there.

    I don’t see why some could not require their clients to only post watermarked images to social media, and Houzz should certainly give a photo credit for editorial usage.

    As to metadata being stripped on websites, isn’t that a violation of the law when it involves removal of copyright info in the metadata?

  5. As a working photographer, this is an impossible thing for me to enforce. Let me explain.

    While I could easily remove my pictures from Houzz, the issue is my clients find the website extremely valuable. If I prevented clients from sharing the pictures on Houzz (or any social media for that matter), it would likely kill my architectural photography. Thus, while I take offense by Houzz’s use of my photos, there is no way in which I’m willing to prevent my paying clients from posting to the site. As it is now, the images are licensed for social media. I’m not sure what else I can do that wouldn’t penalize my client or, ultimately, my own business.

    A sad but true story with no obvious remedy. For what it’s worth, a year ago, an article was published on Houzz using one of my pictures. While it did greatly increase my traffic for the time being, there was no additional income generated. Another sad and true story about social media.

    • John, I agree that Houzz and some other sites provide an extremely valuable service for architects and designers to connect with future clients. My position is, that this use is of extreme value, then the license for this service should be commensorate in the investment they make in photography.

      Obviously we want our clients to get more work from the images we produce. The more clients they connect with, the more we can serve them. The less they spend in mailings and other marketing techniques, the more they have available to invest in quality photography and filmmaking that connects with their clients.

      As you likely are aware, licensing in the past and the rates professional photographers charge for providing their services, is commensurate with the exposure (and opportunity) it provides our clients. As I understand from just a few years as a member of the ASMP has informed me that historically, architects are typically granted far greater usage rights with their licenses than other industries. This tends to be because of the niche audience they intend to use them for. (IE perhaps hundreds of people vs thousands or millions of people). Since the language of services like Houzz indicate that they have the right to relicense our work to anyone for any purpose without compensation, the produced image could therefore be exposed to audiences that would have otherwise paid for that use.

      For example. If houzz.com were to say relicense the entire body of it’s collected works to someone like (I don’t know) Lowes.com, to provide “inspiration” and essentially tie their branding experience to the work of architects who have no association with them, then Lowe’s would have commissioned that work or licensed it from other sources. Potentially taking money directly out of your pocket.

      This is also about protecting the I.P. of our clients. If I have a client who wants exclusive use of an image, how can I grant that to them if they turn around and upload it to houzz and then blame me, if it ends up on an Add for a competing brand.

      In the end it really comes down to the sustainability of our profession as a whole. If our clients are unwilling to support the creatives who can capture their brilliant work in ways that no other can, then many of us professionals will no longer be able to invest in continuing education, equipment, or services that we’d like to provide them. Making us more mediocre and reducing the value proposition we offer them.

      • Ryan, I wholeheartedly agree. I also appreciate your well stated post.

        I would add, however, that a large degree we are at the whim of the market. In my case, I do charge my clients a social media licensing. Unfortunately, the perception of the value of photography is less now than it was. The portability of images (i.e., exposure) should, in theory, make up for losses in licensing to my clients.

        With regards to Lowe’s, if they somehow benefit from my work by a blog post on Houzz, it’s not as if I can charge my client for this use. Are they even directly getting exposure? And, if so, does it really help? I feel as they should not pay for Lowe’s use — Houzz should.

        However, the market is so saturated with photographs and photographers who are willing to work for free, or almost free, destroys the exposure theory. I received a call last year from a prospective client who wanted to hire me to photograph 20 units in one day. What was the compensation offered you say? $200. It’s laughable. Does that even pay for my time? Gas? Gear? Of course not. But I’m sure someone jumped at the chance.

        The only chance any of us has to make it, is to create unique and high quality works so that we stand out from the crowd, which is getting bigger and bigger by the day. You need to be original and the best at what you do.

        If only exposure was worth the value of the website it’s printed on. Ho hum..

        • Hi John,

          Personally, I’m fine with granting a social media license as long as it has a watermark of myself or my client on the image. There needs to be at least one backup way for someone to know the source of the image. I don’t even care if the watermark is only 90% transparent.

          Like you say, all metadata is removed from images as well as alot of the pixel information (color, quality, etc) as they squeeze file size down, but frankly… have you ever heard from a client who said (I found your name and contact info through the metadata) so far I haven’t.

          I should clarify. I’m not saying that our clients should pay for Houzz relicensing the images. I agree with you, that Houzz should be responsible for that.

          As someone who had to reinvent himself with the Great Recession, I understand the that sometimes you are being paid with exposure, or experience, if you aren’t able to prove your worth. However, I think most clients out there who pay $200 for a $20,000 shoot get exactly what they paid for.

          I agree, this market requires exactly what you say in order to not just survive, but thrive. I predict however that we will be reaching a tipping point when the market will be so flooded with bad images by these fauxtographers that in order to stand out from the crowd, people will seek quality above quantity.

  6. As a purveyor of released house stock photos, we have on numerous occasions received calls/emails from (potential) clients, asking for our “full resolution version” of an image seen on Houzz. One was even so bold to ask for a copy of the release we have on file. Of course, they all want this for FREE! The non-watermarked version Houzz “gives” them to use (via the Houzz embedded link) is usually too small. Right click on any Houzz image and you are “only” given a choice of a 500 pixel or 320 pixel image to embed on your site. I was told by one person, “WHY would I pay you to use the image I can get for FREE on Houzz!”

    We found out, most are tech savvy enough to use a Google or Tineye reverse image lookup to find the “exclusive licensing agent,” Corner House Stock Photo, yet NONE want to properly license the released, rights-managed image we hold the exclusive right to license! Even in instances of clear commercial use, we got a “No Thanks.” In each case, we contact the photographer immediately! Usually, after further investigation, we find it is someone the photographer has intentionally and directly “given” or “licensed” a copy of the image to use, such as an architect, designer, builder, etc. This person (photographer’s client) then proceeds to upload the image to Houzz, with the intention to use it as a portfolio piece. In most cases, the photographer’s client’s “use” falls within the “acceptable” parameters of what the photographer’s contract allows.

    In almost all instances, we remove the image from our collection, and give the photographer all of the information we have on the supposed (very blurry lined) infringement. Where do YOU draw the line? I, personally, try to give our photographers as much guidance and evidence of copyright infringement as possible.

    This is a source of tremendous frustration as a photographer and stock photo agent representing photographers. I try to represent our photographer to the best of my ability while faced with HUGE gaping holes created by technology, and disguised as convenience, that are undeniably copyright violations. No matter what vale or disguise is worn, it is simply WRONG! This discussion is not only for stock photographers, but for ALL photographers shooting for a client and giving away images to that client to use as they please.

  7. Seems like this Houzz is hosing more than just photographers. Interior design services are embodied in the photos and are directly being exploited by the site’s use of the photos. And the design services are potentially even worth more than the photography. The net is getting bigger.

  8. “Personally, I don’t mind Houzz using the my photos in an editorial context on its own website. I would accept that as a quid pro quo for free marketing on their site. ”

    And THIS is exactly what got us into this in the first place.

    Was YOUR name listed alongside you photo with your contact information & website? because if it was not, who’s going to know it was your photo? (not just you, everyone who thinks like that) It is NOT free marketing if they don’t talk about you! Or mention your name, website, phone number etc. Next time you get your mail, and see all those flyers selling cosmetics etc, look to see if the “company name” that sells them is named too! (So a potential client knows where to find those cosmetics).

    You are responsible for your own marketing. As a photographer, you should know what you’re offering to a client, and market that to your target client, “everybody” is not a client. If you don’t know, then you need to study or leave this business to those who do understand that it is 20% shooting and 80% marketing. And that marketing includes printed materials, not free Facebook or other SM “likes”. You should watch The GRID from yesterday; Frank Salas was on, and made some fantastic points. It’s going to be available here a little later:
    None of which mention your statement above. That statement is completely against our business, and what has destroyed it.

    Misplaced Ego’s out of tune with proper business practices.

    “As to metadata being stripped on websites, isn’t that a violation of the law when it involves removal of copyright info in the metadata?”
    It Is…but how will you know to enforce it? how much time do you have to spend looking for your stollen works online? and can you afford a lawyer? and have you registered “before” posting those images? because if you didn’t you have no case. If you didn’t register prior to posting online anywhere you should expect to pay $50,000+ to re-claim your works.

    David, less than 1% of all companies UNDERSTAND licensing, and why it is important. When I shoot an interior, it is not only for the interior designer’s eyes; every product in that image has a manufacturer that could be interested in using that photo for THEIR marketing. This is why real professionals LICENSE their images. You license to the pillow guy, the granite guy, the floor guy and so forth, and depending on the length of time they want, and what circulation they have, you add zeros at the end of that license. Obviously a local magazine that will be seen by 600 people will have a cheaper license than a magazine seen by the whole country, or an international one. But people just want to buy a camera and call themselves “photographers”, and skip the education part that would teach them HOW to be a professional photographer!!!!!

    You also have to be careful not to get lied to by these companies not mentioning “hidden subsidies”…I lost 1000 photos to one of these……
    I asked them who is going to use the images so I can write a license that would INCLUDE everyone using those images, and they lied to me. They don’t understand licensing purposely. Thief’s. Lots of companies act like this these days because “people love to see their images used” with complete disregard that THAT is not a proper business practice.

  9. A. Noninoni

    I’m sorry, but you keep waving this red flag that social media sites are poised to steal professional photographers’ images and sell them for commercial gain by virtue of terms of use agreements which may, or may not, be legal. I simply don’t believe this scenario is ever going to happen. Not because the social media sites wouldn’t enjoy selling our images for their profit; but because the legal minefield of doing so would outstrip the financial reward. Would be plaintiffs are not going to be satisfied suing only a photographer, with minimal assets, when they could also sue the social media provider in cases where there are disputes over the right to use images for commercial purposes (e.g., proper releases not signed, or the photographer swiped the image from someone else and doesn’t own the copyright, etc.). You can write one-sided terms of use and force anyone who uses your site to agree to the terms, but it doesn’t mean those terms will stand up in court. And even if you win 100% of the time, defending yourself against lawsuits still costs money. The legal liability here is huge and for that reason I believe your calls of alarm are not justified.

    In the case of Houzz, they probably have the right to re-post images for use on their site (i.e., not for commercial resale). But that decision is short sighted. If they just asked the photographer’s permission first, and gave an appropriate photo credit, I suspect a lot of photographers would allow their image be used in return for the exposure. Also, as others have said, I’m not sure the terms of use of the Houzz site will protect them if there are serious problems with an image. So I think the Houzz practice is slimy, arrogant and potentially very risky. It will also probably cause excellent photographers to refrain from posting images to their site. So I don’t know what genius at Houzz cooked up this idea, but it really feels to run against Houzz’ self interest.

  10. Houzz doesn’t sell images to 3rd party websites….

    Basically,the ToS just allow outside websites to embed your image on their page or blog with accreditation to you. Huffington Post and Forbes write multiple articles a week featuring photos embedded from Houzz.

    I’ve had discussion with Houzz Support in the past and they went over the terms and explained that this is why they put that. That you release your photos to be shown on other sites, but there’s no way Houzz is going to pay you for using your photos on articles and outside sites. Those of you that think some site like Houzz is going to start selling your photos need to get your ego checked out. Completely ridiculous. The author of this article should of consulted a lawyer before writing this.

    I would consider this biased slander if I was Houzz.

  11. Tony Bullard

    “such permission shall be perpetual and may not be revoked for any reason”

    why would anyone agree to these terms?

    we photographers need to create our own terms of service –