Eventbrite is one of the largest event hosting platforms on the planet. It's been used to plan millions of events in more than 180 countries. As it turns out, unbeknownst to the thousands of event creators and millions of attendees, the company has maintained the right to show up at any event, film it, and own the copyright for it.
Barney Dellar pointed out on Twitter that buried within the novella-length Merchant Agreement - a 9,451-word legal document that event hosts have to agree to — is a section titled "Permissions You Grant us to Film and Record Your Events." The section grants Eventbrite a considerable amount of freedom to do whatever the company pleases with events that are hosted through its service, including show up and film it in its entirety.
Through an impressive amount of legalese, Eventbrite conveys to the event host that by using the platform, they "grant permission to Eventbrite and its agents to enter onto and remain on the premises ... with personnel and equipment for the purpose of photographing and recording the Premises."
Eventbrite requires full access to the event and may request to be allowed to show up and film during setup and breakdown of the event or "any other dates" surrounding the event itself.
Should Eventbrite show up and document the event, the company holds just about every right that it could want over the footage. The user agreement dictates that Eventbrite "will own all rights of every nature whatsoever in and to all films and photographs taken and recordings made hereunder (the "Recordings"), including without limitation of all copyrights." It also claims "the exclusive right to use and exploit the Recordings in any manner, in any medium or context now known or hereafter developed."
Just in case it's unclear who owns the content, the terms of service go on to say, "you, on behalf of yourself and the Subjects, irrevocably waive any right to inspect or approve the Recordings or any manner in which they are used."
By entering into the agreement with Eventbrite, the host of the event grants the company the right to use "the names and trademarks of you, the Premises, the Events documented" by the company's film crew.
In addition to claiming the right to just about everything other than the souls of the people who appear on camera during the contractually obligated film sessions, Eventbrite also requires the event host to secure all of the rights that it might need for the footage — entirely at the cost of the host.
"You are responsible for obtaining, at your own cost, all third party permissions, clearances, and licenses necessary to secure Eventbrite the permissions and rights described above, and you represent that you have done so," the agreement reads.
On the off chance that the event holder didn't parse the laborious requirements mandated by the terms and failed to secure the rights required by Eventbrite, the company makes clear that isn't it's problem.
Further, you, on behalf of yourself and the Subjects, release Eventbrite and Eventbrite's assigns, licensees and successors from any claims that may arise regarding use of the Recordings, including, without limitation, any claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, or infringement of rights of likeness, publicity or copyright.
The grab for access made by Eventbrite caught quite a few users off guard once it was brought to their attention.
"Dear @eventbrite: I didn't know we gave you permission to attend our events, film & claim copyright when we used your service," Alex Howard, Deputy Director at the open government advocacy group Sunlight Foundation, wrote on Twitter. "I suspect most other consumers did not, either. Please change this to opt-in, or I'll need to stop using your service."
Amie Stepanovich, the US Policy Manager at digital rights activist group Access Now pointed out that the demands are especially egregious considering Eventbrite isn't claiming rights to events in place of charging for its service — it takes a cut of every ticket sold, too.
I don't understand how they possibly think this is OK," she wrote on Twitter. "This is not even a totally free service - if you charge for tickets they take a percentage of that." Stepanovich noted the agreement is 23 pages long when copied and pasted into a Google Doc.
A Twitter user named Mark Clyburn, who appears to be a Customer Experience Representative for Eventbrite, tweeted that there is a way to opt-out of the filming clause — but it requires event hosts to email Eventbrite's legal team to notify them of the decision. The ability to opt out is not conveyed in the Merchant Agreement itself.
User agreements almost always contain conditions that people would not agree to if they actually took the time to read the document. Companies have made this point by inserting oddball text like requiring users to clean toilets in exchange for using public Wi-Fi or offering a $US1,000 ($1,321) prize to the first user to spot the text in the terms.
Instances like this highlight the importance of reading the fine print, but it also shows just how brazen companies will be when they are pretty sure no one is looking. There's a reason the European Union took aim at these types of agreements with its General Data Protection Regulation. These types of documents should be easy to read to completion and require consent rather than onerous opt-outs.
Update, April 22, 6:50pm: Eventbrite provided Gizmodo with the following comment regarding its Merchant Agreement:
Earlier this month we made an update to our Terms of Service and Merchant Agreement that would allow us the option to work with individual organisers to secure video and photos at their events for marketing and promotional purposes. We've heard some concerns from our customers and agree that the language of the terms went broader than necessary given our intention of the clause.
A spokesperson for Eventbrite said the company has not recorded any footage at events since the text was added. "Upon further review, have removed it entirely from both our Terms of Service and Merchant Agreement. We sincerely apologise for any concern this caused," the spokesperson said.
Since the publication of this story, Eventbrite has removed the "Permissions You Grant us to Film and Record Your Events" section from its Merchant Agreement. An archived version of the document with the text can still be viewed.