Often overlooked when it comes to intellectual property matters, as publishers of content and creative ideas, bloggers can come against a world of intellectual property problems both online and off. Frequently the focus is placed on them accidentally infringing copyright – using the photographs of others without permission, publishing copyrighted recipes in full or borrowing the looks of their favourite designers and brands in a manner that’s all too close to the original, but all too often they are the ones who are wronged.
How bloggers’ intellectual property can be at risk
From professional photographs of self-styled fashion shoots through to design how tos, bloggers share lots of ideas, which are frequently admired by their followers and a wider audience. Sometimes, the admiration goes too far and other bloggers or magazines publish content that could be said to be derivative of the original work. Unfortunately bloggers do frequently find entire articles complete with photos that have been lifted and copied and pasted elsewhere. Alongside personal upset and legal implications, this can lead to serious problems with the search engines.
It’s not just other content publishers who find bloggers inspiring. There have been some very high profile cases of brands being caught out paying a little too much attention to their content too. Back in February 2011 Zara stood accused of copying the styled photographs of fashion bloggers and changing them into sketched illustrations printed on shirts sold in their stores. At the time, a blogger in question, Louise Ebel from France said: “This is irrespectful towards our intellectual property.” You can see the T-shirts in question, which Zara said had been designed by an external designer, here.
It’s not just the origins of styling or design work that can be called into question either. The complete blog concept, brand (and lifestyle) of travel blogger Turner Barr was considered by a huge swathe of the blogging community to have been appropriated for use in a promotional competition developed by a marketing firm working for recruitment company Adecco. The scenario raised very important questions about the ethics of drawing inspiration from bloggers. You can read more about what happened to Turner Barr and the around the world in 80 jobs competition on his blog here and how the case was settled by Adecco here.
Working with bloggers: potential property pitfalls
Coverage of products or services on blogs can put brands in front of large and targeted potential customers. Equally, content contributed by popular bloggers to brand websites can bring in traffic, and if their demographics are similar then the potential for conversion into customers will be good. Then it should be considered that links to websites gained from relevant blogs can help sites achieve success in the search engine rankings, contributing to online sales success. With this in mind, brands are keen to explore how they can work with bloggers. In some instances they invite them to write for their sites – this may come with an offer of payment but a surprising number of brands ask for work to be provided for free in exchange for exposure while passing over the author’s rights which, as may be expected, is an aspect of the deal that’s not always well received. Competitions with a creative angle are also popular – design bloggers might be asked to create a wallpaper design, food bloggers to contribute a recipe and bloggers of all kinds are invited to submit stories on a theme for the chance of winning a prize.
There are a number of potential intellectual property pitfalls with these competitions. Firstly, some brands do not consider carefully enough how they will check that all entries are completely unique and won’t breach third-party copyright or design rights. Secondly, in many instances bloggers are expected to hand over the intellectual property rights to their entries, which then become property of the brands to use (and profit from) as they wish. Not only are bloggers asked to contribute much of their time for free to enter a competition that will give the brand exposure, but they are also asked to give up the rights to their creations.
Food blogger, writer and stylist, Helen Shaw from Fussfreeflavours.com, explains the related difficulties on all sides: “With regard to recipe competitions I would always advise any agency to pay to commission and license content from a handful of people who will do it well and then run a competition around the content – with one of their community winning a prize. Bloggers are paid and happy, the brand builds their community and there are no issues with voting competitions.
“Of course there will always be some that will take part in these challenges, and some will indeed produce excellent content, but the brand is risking untested recipes which do not work, questionable quality – a photo from an entry level camera is not the same as one taken with a professional camera, and in some cases originality – a brand does not want to inadvertently publish copyrighted material.”
Intellectual property law hints and tips for bloggers
Though a blogger may not at first consider their own personal project to be a business or a brand, it pays to be cautious and plan against potential intellectual property problems in the future. This could start with registering your domain name or blog title as a trademark and displaying a copyright message on your site to indicate that your content belongs to you. If you are happy for others to use your images if attributed, include information on how you would like this to be performed and be sure to afford other bloggers the same courtesy. When you publish content, consider if it is 100 per cent your own work and be respectful of copyright.