In April this year Airbnb launched its Neighbourhood guides where locals share their knowledge of where they live to enable people visiting cities from Seoul to San Francisco to get the best experience from their trips. To help illustrate these guides, Airbnb has struck a deal with Foursquare. From now on, photos uploaded to Foursquare could make their way into an Airbnb guide.
Foursquare might not strike you immediately as the most obvious source of high quality images to illustrate a city guide, but if you step back and think about it from Airbnb’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. First, Airbnb’s guides are intended to give guests and visitors a local’s eye view of somewhere. Foursquare-shared images do just that. These aren’t perfectly lit, carefully framed professional photos presenting a polished version of a pub, restaurant, or landmark. These are smartphone photos hastily snapped in between your first and second glasses of prosecco and just before you dive headlong into a bowl of gnocchi the size of your face. They are, to use the word of the moment, authentic.
And in support of that authenticity is Foursquare’s geolocation data. It makes Airbnb’s life easier if it can be sure that a photo does come from where it’s meant to be.
We may use your User Submissions in a number of different ways in connection with the Site, Service and Foursquare’s business as Foursquare may determine in its sole discretion, including but not limited to, publicly displaying it, reformatting it, incorporating it into marketing materials, advertisements and other works, creating derivative works from it, promoting it, distributing it, and allowing other users to do the same in connection with their own websites, media platforms, and applications (“Third Party Media”). By submitting User Submissions on the Site or otherwise through the Service, you hereby do and shall grant Foursquare a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully paid, sublicensable and transferable license to use, copy, edit, modify, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, perform, and otherwise fully exploit the User Submissions in connection with the Site, the Service and Foursquare’s (and its successors and assigns’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Site (and derivative works thereof) or the Service in any media formats and through any media channels (including, without limitation, third party websites and feeds). You also hereby do and shall grant each user of the Site and/or the Service, including Third Party Media, a non-exclusive license to access your User Submissions through the Site and the Service, and to use, edit, modify, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display and perform such User Submissions in connection with their use of the Site, Service and Third Party Media. For clarity, the foregoing license grant to Foursquare does not affect your other ownership or license rights in your User Submission(s), including the right to grant additional licenses to the material in your User Submission(s), unless otherwise agreed in writing with Foursquare.
In other words, if you submit an image to Foursquare, it can do pretty much whatever the hell it likes with it and it doesn’t have to compensate you for it. And that includes selling them on to Airbnb.
When I sought clarification from Foursquare that its users won’t be compensated should their photos be used by Airbnb, this was confirmed.
What’s especially galling about this particular arrangement is that Airbnb is prepared to spend money on photos for its guides. Foursquare wouldn’t give them away for nothing. However, whether because Foursquare’s location specific images make selecting the right one less time-consuming, and therefore cheaper, or because Foursquare was able to make a deal for Airbnb that was more financially prudent than paying for a series of more traditionally licensed images, the people actually responsible for creating the photos are missing out.
I’m sure that some people who uploaded photos to Foursquare never dreamed that they might be used in an Airbnb guide. Recompense is, probably, just as far from their minds. But as a community of photographers, we should be concerned. It denies photographers, both professional and amateur, the opportunity to earn money from their craft.
Furthermore, by failing to reimburse photographers for their work it devalues the creative process and the skill and dedication of its practitioners. This isn’t a new trend, and I cannot envisage it abating–especially as the world becomes ever more photographed and we’re presented with yet more means of sharing our images–but, just as with the terms and conditions of any competition, I urge you to read them carefully and only agree to them if you truly can subscribe to their implications.
Finally, an exhortation to Airbnb: there are myriad means of selecting geo-located photos to illustrate your guides with authenticity and integrity. Maybe the pin money generated by a few photo sales would pay for a stay in an Airbnb somewhere?
Note: I have requested comment from Airbnb regarding its choice of image provider. At the time of publication I have not received a response.
Statement from Foursquare: ‘The Foursquare community is everything to us. They’re passionate about travel and exploration, and they share info, tips and photos for the good of the greater community. Airbnb has a very similar community-driven mission. Our partnership means that Foursquare City Guide users will share their best discoveries with an even wider likeminded audience. In Foursquare Swarm, should a user want to make their photo private (which is the default), they can do so with the swipe of a toggle.’
Update from Airbnb: Airbnb is planning on using images from a number of sources in addition to Foursquare but it isn’t looking to use more traditional means such as stock houses. ‘Our goal is to keep a community feel and source imagery from the community.’