Apartment Complex Claims Copyright On All Tenants’ Reviews & Photos Of Property

The "Social Media Addendum" for this Orlando-area apartment complex not only fines tenants $10,000 for negative online reviews, but transfers the copyright of anything you write or any images you publish about the property or its management.

The “Social Media Addendum” for this Orlando-area apartment complex not only fines tenants $10,000 for negative online reviews, but transfers the copyright of anything you write or any images you publish about the property or its management.

When you move into an apartment building you may face all sorts of rules about noise, public areas, trash collection, and paint colors, but one Florida management company tried to go the extra mile by including a “social media addendum” telling tenants that not only will they be hit with a $10,000 fine for griping about their living situation on any social media platform, but that the apartment owners automatically hold the copyright for anything tenants write about — and any photos they take of — the place.

“Applicant will refrain from directly or indirectly publishing or airing negative commentary regarding the Unit, Owner, the property, or the apartments,” reads the addendum [via Ars Technica]. “This means that Applicant shall not post negative commentary or reviews on Yelp!, Apartment Ratings, Facebook, or any other website or Internet-based publication or blog.”

The tenant also has to agree that it’s completely left up to ownership to determine when a comment is negative.

But wait — it gets a lot better.

Not only does the addendum make the owner the sole arbiter of what is or isn’t fine-worthy, it also assigns the copyright for “any and all written or photographic works regarding” the apartment or management.

Doing so gives the owner the authority to make a takedown request under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. So if you wrote a blog post about a crack in your wall and the ownership didn’t like it, they don’t need your approval to have it removed. They could instead contact the company providing your blogging platform to have it taken down — not because it’s offensive or libelous, but because they hold the copyright and you published it without permission.

At the very least, they could contact search engines like Google to request that they delist your blog post from search results because it violates copyright.

“If I took a photo of people in my apartment, they would own it,” a tenant at the Orlando-area apartment complex tells Ars Technica. “It’s just ridiculous.”

He said he refused to sign the addendum and asked that it be removed from his lease.

“They said, we’ll talk to the property managers,” he recalls, adding that he never heard anything back until recently, when it was time to renew his lease and the addendum was there again.

When contacted by Ars, the management company tried to claim that the addendum is no longer part of the regular lease and that it “was put in place by a previous general partner for the community following a series of false reviews.”

Management says the addendum has been voided for all residents, though the tenant who brought to Ars Technica’s attention says he received it only days ago.

These sort of non-disparagement clauses and copyright transfers do not have a good track record in court and they appear to be used primarily as threats to give consumers pause before writing something negative.

We recently told you about a dentist who tried to control the negative reviews about her practice by including a clause in her contract that transfers copyright of reviews to her. In the end, the court ruled against her, though it was a default judgment so there was no trial and no one seems to be able to locate the dentist.

Other companies — like the sketchy “Accessory Outlet” — have tried to use non-disparagement clauses to prevent customers from even mentioning that they may write something unpleasant about their experience.

The state of California has already passed a law forbidding such clauses. A 2014 attempt to enact similar legislation on a federal level died in committee.

But you may not even need such laws, as some believe that such restrictive clauses can’t pass legal muster.

“It would be a terrible idea to enforce this in court, a judge is going to shred it,” Santa Clara University Law Professor Eric Goldman explains to Ars. “If a person posts an Instragram photo of them having a party in their apartment, the landlord is saying they own that as well. The overreach reinforces that this clause is bad news, and it may be actionable just to ask.”