Toronto Startup 500px Ignites Controversy Over TOS: Is it Helping Users or Tricking Them?

500px is a Toronto-based startup thats quickly gaining ground in the online photo portfolio space. It recently unveiled a plan to undercut Vancouver-born competitor Flickr. But now it’s suddenly under fire over its terms of service agreement.

The startup’s Terms of Service agreement is a thick 4,500 words, and its Privacy Policy adds another 1,600 words to the mix. But 500px added a “basic” version of the TOS just to the right – a lay men’s version written in plain, simple language. And that’s the problem.

The Atlantic praised 500px’s right column of simplification, calling the move “awesome.” But The Atlantic also seemed to ignore the fact that the simple version of the TOS conveniently excludes key information – and that the right column may be legally binding based on its placement.

For example, 500px condenses 600 words of legalese about content ownership into two short sentences: “Your photos will preserve whatever copyright they had before uploading to this site. We will protect the copyright and will not sell your photos without your permission.” But there are clauses in the full TOS that users should be aware of, such as: 

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, provided such Content is attributed to you in accordance with the credits (i.e. username, profile picture, photo title, descriptions, tags, and other accompanying information) if any and as appropriate, all as submitted to 500px by you […]

This is a big deal to some people; Facebook was just recently sued by a Canadian over a very similar matter. Facebook will likely win that battle because it didn’t offer a simplified TOS in the same location. But a 500px user could easily argue that the startup is implying they can get away with reading only the simplified version. While 500px says the right column in and of itself “is not legally binding,” saying so does not necessarily make it so. 

Simplifying TOS agreements is ideal for users. But that’s not what 500px has done: it’s retained its convoluted legalese and created a second version that only covers a fraction of the full agreement. Perhaps the startup is trying to hide things, perhaps it’s just trying to help users. Either way, 500px has put itself at undue risk.

UPDATE: Read Evgeny Tchebotarev’s response to this article here.