JPay, a company that provides digital communications systems to corrections facilities in at least 19 states, is charging inmates and their families an unusual fee to stay in touch: the intellectual property rights to everything sent through its network.
The corrections industry is undergoing a technological renaissance when it comes to inmate communication, with prison contractors offering increasingly sophisticated digital services, such as email and video visitation. These companies promise safer and more efficient alternatives to traditional snail mail and in-person visits, but they come at a high price for prisoners and their families, who may be unaware of the extent of the fees and surcharges until they get the bill.
With JPay, though, there’s an extra charge that won’t show up on any credit card statement: the user’s rights to their letters, pictures, videos, and other forms of creative expression.
As Bloomberg reported, JPay aims to be the “Apple of the U.S. Prison System,” offering an array of digital services to inmates, including video visitation, money transfers, and multimedia tablets that inmates can use to listen to music or read books. The company also offers a telecommunications system that allows inmates to send and receive emails (including “videograms”) from their tablets or from kiosks within corrections facilities.
These services aren’t cheap, of course, but many users won’t realize they are handing over more than money. When an inmate or their family member on the outside uses JPay, they agree to a lengthy Terms of Service contract that contains this buried clause:
You … acknowledge that JPay owns all of the content, including any text, data, information, images, or other material, that you transmit through the Service.
In other words, JPay is leveraging its exclusive access to prisoner communications to claim rights over anything they or their friends and family transmit.