Recently I learned of an incident where a photographer, Christopher Cooper, had his account inexplicably removed from 500px.com. Based on his tweets (@ARTofCoop), Mr. Cooper had his account removed with no warning from the 500px team. In digging deeper into it, as one would for an account one paid for, he found out that his account was banned for containing “pornographic” photos.
Evgeny Tchebotarev (@tchebotarev), co-founder of 500px, provided Mr. Cooper with explanation for his account termination and then reinstated his account. However, upon accessing his account, Mr. Cooper found that all of his photos had been deleted, again for the reason of violating the “terms of service”.
This is completely unacceptable and 500px acted without cause, in my opinion. In 500px’s terms of service (http://500px.com/terms), under “User Conduct”, item 2 lists the following:
“To [not] post or transmit, or cause to be posted or transmitted, any Content that is libellous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, abusive, offensive, profane, or that infringes any copyright or other right of any person;”
However, nowhere in the TOS (that I could find) is the term “pornographic” defined or any of the terms in item 2 defined for that matter. With out a formal definition of a given term, the meaning of that term is completely subjective and cannot be used to effectively categorize anything. Yes, I am not an attorney, but I have enough practical experience with contracts and agreements to know that you cannot be this vague.
In most cases, not all, when terms are poorly defined, the tendency is to consult the dictionary to get a commonly accepted definition of a given term. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of “pornographic” is as follows:
“…the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement…”
So, in applying the common definition of the term, do some of Mr. Cooper’s photographs fall into the category of “pornographic”. Yes, but…wait for it…so do a fair amount of other photographs on 500px!! As a user of 500px, it is almost impossible to not come across a photograph that is “…intended to cause sexual excitement…”. I am curious how many other photographers have had a similar experience to Mr. Cooper, if any at all.
The point of this post is not to define pornography or defend it. The point is merely that 500px dropped the ball on this one. While their TOS had the best intent, they failed to specifically define the terms in which their TOS was going to be enforced. Additionally, they did not seem to effectively or equally apply their subjective definition in their TOS, leaving many photos published on the site that would easily fall into the definition of “pornography”, as listed previous. Personally, I am curious as to how the 500px team or individual came to the conclusion that was made and acted as they did. What was the basis?
Up until this point, I have been impressed with 500px. They have brought a fresh new look to photography portals and they have challenged some of the players in the industry. Unfortunately, they have not seemed to pay attention to some of the more “administrative” aspects of running a site or a business. One can only hope that they haven’t missed anything else.