Blog Commentary and Fair Use


You wouldn’t be able to tell it from my utter lack of fashion sense, but I read a couple fashion blogs (manly fashion blogs, have you) and the post below stirred me to post on a topic that affects the way I pull a lot of content into my site:

Friday Question: U Mad?:
Senior year of college, I took a Comm Law 100 course. I had no daydreams about delivering Law & Order-style closing arguments dancing in my head; I just needed to fill some credits and thought it might be interesting. To this day, all I remember are the name of a few cases and the distinct memory of my father telling me never to be a lawyer.

I wish I’d listened a little better in class, though, because the question of content rights has been swirling around my little menswear world the past couple days, and it would be nice to be a bit better informed.

The gist of it is this:
StyleSeek, the new men’s style curation and discovery site, launched at the beginning of this week. I talked about it on Style Girlfriend a few days ago, as did a few other outlets (a little-known pub called GQ among them).

It came to my attention after the launch that some menswear bloggers (I don’t know how many – could be a handful, could be a whole bunch) weren’t contacted about their work being featured on StyleSeek. If their articles could appear on the site, if they wanted to be affiliated with the site at all.

As for me, I was asked to be a part of the endeavor by Ryan Plett, the creative director of StyleSeek. We had a lovely brunch a few weeks back where he told me all about the site and asked me to be one of its “influencers.” Send them a picture, a bio, and fill out my styleDNA.” Easy enough. I said yes.

So I knew. I knew content from Style Girlfriend would be pulled in. At the time, I didn’t question the legality, morality, or the fairness of my words being repurposed on another website, all for free. At all. To be honest, I didn’t think much about any of it. I was given a log-in and played with the site a little bit pre-launch but figured things would change, as they always do once a site goes live and users are able to kick the tires a little. Like when URL shortener bit.ly debuted a new site; there were a few glaring user experience issues, all of which were fixed in about two and a half days. I’d wait for the site to be up for a minute, I figured, before paying the whole thing too much mind.

Then the site went live and a firestorm erupted. A few of my most eloquent – and unabashedly vocal – menswear blogger friends took to Twitter and their respective blogs to say, hey, our content is up on this site called StyleSeek. We’ve never heard of it and we don’t want the words we’ve written used on some other site without getting paid for it. That is stealing.

You can read more here and here.

Then, since I had written about the site earlier in the week with only good, non-lawyer-y things to say about it, I had people asking me, “Megan, did you know about this? Did you know your content was on this site? Aren’t you mad?” The answer was yes, yes, and well, no, not really…but maybe I should be??
I started Style Girlfriend not as a way to make a living but as a means to getting to where I could be making a living. I wanted to increase my exposure at a time when I wanted to write for a living but didn’t, to communicate with an audience who I thought wasn’t being addressed enough, to engage a reader who I wanted to entertain and educate. I’ve done that, hopefully well, in the past year and change. Now, SG takes up more of my time, and there are ads on the sides and I do in fact make a little pocket change from it, but I’ve stayed frozen in the mindset of “Must get exposure. Get paid in exposure.”

Would I like some of this $1M of funding that StyleSeek has to kick around? Sure. Yes. Of course. Did I settle for the hope that my mug and my words living on their site would increase traffic to my own site, indirectly resulting in a (paltry) bump in ad revenue and potentially more paid content opportunities? Yes. Because as I said above, the nagging voice in my head tells me I should just feel lucky to be asked to the party, as it were.

I wish I could be more of a drum beater for the rights of content creators, but 1) the aforementioned intro-level law survey course under my belt does not embolden me to speak on these matters, and 2) I knew what I was getting into so it would be insincere to express outrage now. And I have gotten some new readers from all this (Hello, by the way! Welcome! Go visit this post; fellas seem to like it). So I got what I was promised by Ryan at brunch so many moons ago; it’s just now that I realize what I was promised wasn’t what I should have settled for.

Yesterday, Ryan announced that StyleSeek would begin shortening blog posts on the site, and link out to those bloggers’ sites. That’s certainly a step in the right direction. Because ideally, I want people to read my content on my site, bouncing around through my archives for a few hours, and finding me so generally delightful that they feel compelled to PayPal me a million dollars on the spot.

But I also want people to know me. To know about Style Girlfriend. To think about it a week from now and visit it. A month from now and visit it. I want brands who show up in my styledna to say, “hey, we want to work with that pretty lady” (I hope that’s exactly what they say) and get in touch and offer me money to write words. I love writing words. I also love paying my rent each month. There has to be a way to be a content creator and a grown up who not only understands but demands for themselves the respect that comes from work-money, money-work.

So for my Friday question, I’m crowdsourcing my reaction: Should I be upset about all this? Should I pull my content from StyleSeek? Should I have asked for compensation up front? I’d love to hear what you have to say on the question of content creation and compensation on the internet. Maybe you think we’re still in the wild west phase of the web, and I should just be happy they attributed my words to me at all?

And heck, while we’re at it, who would you like to see me work with? Blogger collaborations? Brands? I want to maintain the integrity of this site by only partnering with brands I believe in and think you guys would want to hear about, but I also want to keep my lights on and my stove running, and it would be awesome if the time I spent on Style Girlfriend contributed more towards the foundation of ol’ Maslow’s pyramid. Who could i partner with (on sponsored posts, say, or giveaways) that you’d be interested to hear more about? Let’s help keep style girlfriend going, the right way.
And as always, thanks for your support. It means the world to me.

I can understand the bloggers who feel like the site mentioned above has misappropriated their content for profit, which would be unfortunate, but for my purposes, I’d like to look at the doctrine of Fair Use. Fair Use has a long history in common law, but is only as old as I am in codified US law:

17 U.S.C. § 107

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

 So let’s look at the way I use other people’s content on this site. It usually happens like this:

  1. I have Google Reader configured to pull in RSS feeds from sites I like.
  2. I have Google Alerts configured to pull in stuff from all over the Web with certain keywords and dump them into an RSS feed in Google Reader.
  3. If I see something I like that I want to share, I import it into my site from Google Reader.
  4. I try to attribute the site I pulled the content from and always leave their links in place.
  5. I either say “look at what I’ve found”, or I provide some type of commentary on why I shared it.
  6. I don’t attempt to make any money off of other people’s content. In fact, I have had Google AdSense account for as long as I’ve had this blog up, and I haven’t made enough from it to buy a good cup of coffee, nor did I expect to.
  7. I license my original works under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. This allows:
  1. You: 
  1. to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
  2. to Remix — to adapt the work
  • Conditions:  
    1. Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
    2. Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes. 
    3. Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one. 

    I take an “Information wants to be free” approach to my own writings, but I don’t want to misappropriate other people’s efforts, nor do I want to profit from them. I don’t have a right to determine that other people’s “Information wants to be free”. My goal in running this site is to patch together a quilt of topics that interest me. If they interest you, too, then great! We both benefit.

    Furthermore, I think the way I am using other people’s content fits within the fair use doctrine. My work is not commercial. I don’t attempt to diminish the value of the content in question. I hope that when I post something from someone else’s site, that those who find it on my site will follow the links back to the originator’s site. If they had one snippet worth reading here, you know, they probably have even more gems back on their own site.

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