American Express is getting in on the crowdsourcing philanthropy act by hosting a new initiative, Members Project. Propose good-for-the-world projects, vote on the projects of others, and Amex will dole out $2.5 million in funding to support the winning ideas.
Amex touts the project with the tag line: "Your Ideas. Your Decision. Our Money." Sounds all to the good. But Joe Merante, Institute for Information Law Student Research Fellow, read the fine print.
Turns out that "your ideas," once submitted to the website, become Amex's ideas. Not a license. Not a right to reprint. Not permission to put you and your project in their commercials. No, an irrevocable assignment of all rights such that .
You irrevocably assign to American Express all rights (including copyrights) in any ideas or expressions of ideas that you provide on or through the Project Site, including without limitation the Project Submission and all comments, suggestions, graphics, ideas (including product and advertising ideas), and other information or materials you submit on the Discussion Boards and otherwise on or through the Project Site (collectively, "User Content"), all of which will become and remain the exclusive property of American Express, including any future rights associated with such materials.
Becomes a little difficult to do good for the world when you can no longer use your own plan to "Spare Change for Clean Beaches," and have the specter of an Amex lawsuit hanging over your head if you use "Palmetto Biodiesel," or "My Simple Rule for Better Health."