Hey guys! It's been quite a hot minute since I have give you a fabulous new blogging tip or tutorial and I'm sorry about that… but I'm back with a topic that I believe needs to be talked about because it is something that I don't think most bloggers are aware of.
Content copyright when working with sponsored post companies/networks.
First: what is content copyright?
When someone (a blogger, photographer, etc.) creates a piece of content – written text, takes a photograph, creates a recipe – that content is then owned by the content creator, i.e., the blogger. We own the copyright and it is our exclusive right as the author to control who else can use that work and in what manner.
This means that no one else can legally take that exact same content and copy and paste it on their own website or pass it off as their own. They also cannot take your work and modify it in any way, repost it, and pass it off as their own.
Unless it's recipe ingredients because while the directions and method to prepare it are copyrighted, the ingredients used to make it are not. Or unless you give them specific written permission to license, own copyright, modify, change, or distribute your work with or without attribution.
Unfortunately, some sponsored post companies fall into that latter category…
When you work with a sponsored post company you sign a contract, usually in the form of accepting some terms and conditions (TOS), that grants the company a license to use and distribute your work. Licenses can dictate the number of uses, the bounds of use and even the length of time until the license expires. But the blogger most always retains copyright of their work.
Just because someone pays money for the content doesn’t mean they have full control or rights to the content.
Some companies, as in this case, take it a little further and state that they own all content and copyright to that content. This is, again, stated in the TOS that you “sign” to become part of their network. The only problem with this is that it is widely known, as I am equally guilty of this, that not many people actually read through the TOS. It's much easier to just check the little box and say that you read them and move on with your day.
This is not a smart move… and I definitely learned my lesson.
So what happened?
I recently created a post for one of (I believe) the most popular blogger sponsored post networks out there: Social Fabric/Collective Bias (SoFab). They proceeded to take this sponsored post and copy and paste it on their own blog site – with a negligible link to me. I promptly asked them to remove it, and they did, but it lead me to wonder about why they did this and if it was legal for them to do. Since I thought I owned copyright…
The Services are “Work Made for Hire” and ownership will be with CB and the Client. The Client shall have the right to use the Services without attribution any project for which the Member has been retained.
What I got from it was the copyright of my images and written content is not actually mine anymore, even though I created it. It is copyright of SoFab and whoever was contracted by them to write the post (i.e., the brand) and they can do with it whatever they please without crediting the blogger. At first I didn't believe that an established, “blogger friendly” company like this would actually do this and I wanted clarification.
I opened a support ticket for clarification and this is what I wrote:
I was reading through the terms of service and wanted to clarify something, if that's possible. There is a clause in there that states “The Services are “Work Made for Hire” and ownership will be with CB and the Client.”
Does this mean that all of the post content, photos, copyright, etc. that are created on my blog due to being accepted into a shoppertunity, owned by and copyrighted to Collective Bias and Social Fabric? Meaning that I do not own the copyright on my photos or content anymore?
I opened that ticket on 8/16/16 and began waiting… And then I began to wonder about all the other companies that I produce or have produced sponsored content for. So I did what any rational person would do: proceed to read through every company's TOS that I can think of or have worked with in the past or currently.
Fortunately, I only found one other company that has a similar clause in their TOS – Linqia (See #18):
All Influencer Content will belong exclusively to Linqia. Influencer hereby acknowledges and agrees that Linqia shall be the sole owner of all right title and interest in and to any and all Influencer Content.
How is it possible that this is considered “ok” by the company? Bloggers work hard to create their content and they are just going to take it and say that it's theirs? Uh…
It ultimately took SoFab 10 days to get back to me. Which is shocking in itself, there's no reason for a 10 day ticket window… but I digress.
This was SoFab's response:
Yes, it is true (as with other networks as well) that the company and client own the content created. This is common with most networks. Let me know if you have further questions.
There is only 1 problem with her response: it is FALSE.
SoFab and Linqia are the only companies that I have read in their TOS that they own the copyright to the images and content. All other companies that I have worked with or heard of only use a “license agreement” between the blogger and the company (see above).
Update 6/22/17: The Ahology Sponsored Content Program also states that they own copyright to content that bloggers create. (See #6)
Content copyright is usually garnered by a much higher pay that what sponsored post networks offer.
Bloggers work really hard on the content they create and the amount they are being paid for sponsored posts with a network company is not nearly enough to be compensated for ownership of copyright. Even brands, when contacted directly, do not require copyright to be held with the brand, it always remains with the blogger and a licensing agreement is used for use, distribution, and promotion.
So, lesson learned…
Needless to say that me and a few other bloggers have decided to leave the SoFab and Linqia networks because of this. The rate they pay for copyrighted material and the quick turnaround they require is not worth the time, stress, and effort that we put in.
So please, read your contracts. Or the terms of service that you are “signing” by checking that box.
If you are fine with someone else owning your content and telling you what you can and cannot do with it, then that's great. But I know that I work way to hard on this little space of the internet for someone to claim what I created is theirs. You and your content are worth so much more than the few dollars that they pay.
If you have a network that you work for, are a part of, or are thinking about working for and are unsure… please ask me by leaving a comment. I'd love to check them out if I haven't already.
Update 6/22/17: It looks like SoFab decided to remove the “works made for hire” from their TOS and now it states:
In the event you are invited to provide paid services to Collective Bias and/or its clients, such services shall be the subject of a separate, written Independent Contractor Agreement and Scope of Work, which shall define your and our respective rights and responsibilities in connection with such services.
This does not mean that they not longer require copyright ownership, but they are now providing a document for each individual “shop” to determine copyright ownership. So still tread with caution.