Companies make mistakes all the time. In the age of social media, some mistakes can’t be easily buried or hidden. The best a company can do is take responsibility for their actions, pledge to do better and hope that things blow over quickly.
That might be what Nickelodeon is hoping for in a recent problem with bloggers, but when it comes to messing with the intellectual property of online content creators, companies also face the wrath of an entire community. ”Screwing Over Bloggers” is also a bizarre PR strategy to implement in a time when major media brands know they need to be investing in and strengthening relationships with bloggers.
NickMom.com is the online support for the NickMom block of comedy programming that will appear on Nick Jr. each night from 10 p.m to 2 a.m., starting October 1. Ironically, they have sourced some of their television and online programming from the blogosphere. The new show Parental Discretion features veteran blogger and author Stephanie Wilder-Taylor of Baby on Bored, on the site other blogger relationships are featured, and they have leveraged a relationship with BlogHer to reach blogging moms. So they seem to know the importance of positive blogger outreach right now, much as other new-show launchers Ricki Lake and Katie Couric do.
But by making major mistakes in how they are sourcing the content of NickMom.com, they’re mishandling a major blogger relationship fail.
Here’s the NickMom.com graphic in question:
So is it plagiarism? Copyright violation? Or just a strongly inspired graphic that was seemingly a little too inspired?
The issue was raised by multiple bloggers rising to the defense of Charlie Capen and Andy Herald, the successful team of dad bloggers. Amy Lupold Bair of ResourcefulMommy.com wrote a passionate post about what she considers blatant content stealing:
“With image sharing at an all time high thanks to Pinterest, and Facebook feeds completely transformed from status updates to clever pictures, what can content creators do to protect and monetize their work? I think it’s time for the blogging community to stand up to brands who have taken a “But everyone’s doing it!” cavalier attitude towards content ownership.”
It raises several issues about intellectual property. How can bloggers respect the work of others and protect their own original content? And more importantly, how can well-respected brands such as NickMom.com ensure they aren’t knowingly or unknowingly ripping off content of online content creators? Each website additionally needs to manage this risk properly and have a policy in place to respond quickly to complaints of unattributed work or other intellectual property issues.
Blogger Alex Asher Sears writes an informative series on her blog AlexandraWrote.com called “If Emily Posted” about social media ethics and netiquette. Particularly useful was her post, “If Emily Posted: On Fair Use,” which is essentially what is called into question here.
Alex wrote a post on her blog called Imitation is Not Flattery: On Copyright, Bloggers and Fair Use in response to this particular debacle and also shared a few words of wisdom:
“Some are of the opinion that what we create, our words and images, are like confetti to be sprinkled around the web. If we put it there, it’s a free for all. Sure, confetti is pretty. But have you ever tried to clean it up? It’s a mess. It’s hard to know where it all goes.”
And a mess is what NickMom got themselves into when they were approached directly by Charlie and Andy at HowToBeADad.com about the content in question. To date, the only response received from NickMom regarding the situation was in response to a tweet referencing Amy Lupold Bair’s post:
@howtobeadad We had no idea! We can remove it from the site. Can we still be friends?
— NickMom (@NickMom) September 12, 2012
As of today, the original link to the cartoon on NickMom delivers a different sort of graphic:
While the content has been removed, bloggers still want to know more about the process that companies like NickMom use to procure content for their site. And they want to know how to make sure companies understand the value of their intellectual property.
NickMom isn’t alone in their lax editorial process. NBC also has been using content that had been lifted from HowToBeADad.com. And how are Charlie and Andy responding? Charlie has an enthusiastic attitude about content sharing, which is markedly different than plagiarism:
“If someone is jazzed about something we do, and posts it on their personal page — MORE POWER TO THEM! We hope it rocks some socks. But when a brand or large community uses it without asking first, modifies your original work, or doesn’t even tag you in the social space it’s being displayed: we have a problem.”
But if you ask someone like Alex Asher Sears who is passionate on the topic of social media ethics, she’ll direct you to her post on kids and intellectual property:
“Content isn’t any less valuable online. Giving credit isn’t getting permission. Copyright is priceless because it gives us the RIGHT to decide where our work is COPIED. And no one should feel guilt about preserving that. We must value ourselves or no one else will.”
Speaking of kids and intellectual property, perhaps NickMom.com, as part of Nickelodeon, should take a page out of their own book.
Season 2, episode 21 of the popular show, iCarly, has the kids headed to Hollywood to stop a rich and powerful studio from plagiarizing their skits. Carly and her friends make a few simple threats and the writers swear never to steal the show’s ideas again.
Let’s hope future situations regarding bloggers’ intellectual property won’t require idle threats from adolescent teens. Or better yet, let’s hope no more future situations occur.
NickMom.com was contacted for comment on this story and released the following statement:
“When the contributing writer turned in his Dinosaur v. Baby infographic, he did not point the editors to the image on HowToBeADad.com as reference material because he did not copy it, and does not recall ever seeing it. It is indisputable that the graphics are different, and the wording is completely different as well. And even if he had been inspired by it, being inspired by something is not the same as copyright infringement (even HowToBeADad was inspired by Toho Ltd.’s copyrighted Godzilla character). Which is also why we took a beat to evaluate the issue before acting. Ultimately, we decided that even if it isn’t legally copyright infringement we would remove the post out of respect for their blog, and because that’s not what NickMom is about.
What we are about is being a source of humorous original content for moms and dads. We work with numerous editors, writers, and artists to create that content. And we care about respecting the intellectual property rights of others as much as we do about protecting our own rights. If there are any issues in the future, we will investigate and act upon them as appropriate. Sometimes we may agree that there is a real problem, and sometimes we may not. And we are open to having a real dialogue rather than just responding to hyperbolic accusations, but that’s really hard to do in 140 characters. We have a lot of respect for ResourcefulMom, Type-A-Mom and HowToBeADad, and hope that it may be mutual one day. We are sorry if we got off on the wrong foot, and will be contacting each of them in the next few days to have that dialogue.”