Last Friday's post — Read the Fine Print: Chictopia and Payless Don't Need to Ask to Profit from Blogger Images — revealed that Payless Shoes was using bloggers' images to promote its products on its commercial website without the express consent of the bloggers themselves. The images were provided to Payless by Chictopia, a social network where users post outfit photos. The fact that Chictopia did a similar collaboration with Keds prior to the Payless project was brought to our attention by a link provided by Helen Zhu, the founder of Chictopia.
Helen commented on the post:
…It’s great to see so many Chictopia members voicing their views on the community here on IFB. I cannot express how valuable their feedback is to us. Erin’s thoughts on getting her Chictopia profile linked by our partner is heard, and we are currently working on a solution to address this and make our community happy.
The same rule applies to Chictopia. Members and bloggers post photos, comments, reviews, or other content to get noticed. The contribution material may get tweeted, reblogged, and pulled on retailers’ sites for further recognition. If members would like to reduce their level of public presence, they can simply change their photo setting to “friends only”, or private.
As far as our future partnerships and site improvements, this article on Chictopia summarizes it all. Thanks for stopping by Chictopia!
Are all terms created equal?
We wanted to take a closer look at some of the issues raised by Helen's comment.
However, not all social networks have the same policies. Facebook, for instance, has repeatedly faced criticism over privacy issues as it transitions from a means of networking with groups of real-life acquaintances to a service that has a commercial interest in sharing its users' information with the public. Recently, four senators led by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer called on the Federal Trade Commission to establish privacy guidelines for Facebook and other social networks that would stop such services from selling user data to third-party sites unless users explicitly agree — or “opt in” — to such an arrangement. Fifteen consumer groups followed suit.
In contrast, when we asked YouTube if the company would sell or give away user-uploaded videos to a third-party partner for promotion of that third party's products, a spokesman said, “The short answer … is ‘no.'” That means that when you upload video to YouTube, that video is there to be shared amongst YouTube's users, not resold or given away to other businesses. Your video of hungry kittens shouldn't unexpectedly end up in a television commercial advertising cat food.
In Twitter's Terms of Service, the company says that submitting content grants Twitter a “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).” The ToS goes on to say, “This license is you authorizing us to make your Tweets available to the rest of the world and to let others do the same. But what’s yours is yours – you own your content.”
In the fashion world, Yuri Lee from LOOKBOOK.nu, another street-style network, says, “Our users own full rights to their content and even if it were not unlawful, we still would never try to directly profit from selling our community generated content to third party sites and businesses.” She goes on to say, “Our Terms of Service do give us a permission from our users to use the content they post on LOOKBOOK.nu and to grant that permission to third parties. However, we do not take this permission lightly and we only use it in very specific circumstances where we are very careful to guard our users' interest.”
Are all collaborations created equal?
Just as networks' Terms of Service differ, so do the ways those terms are practiced. LOOKBOOK.nu has done four collaborations with fashion companies, all of which, Yuri says, were done without monetary compensation to LOOKBOOK.nu but for “experience, exposure, and just giving our community something to be excited about.” She cites a collaboration with American Apparel, which wanted style photos for its print lookbook. Users who wanted to participate opted in by entering a contest “so that everyone understood what was happening. Yes, American Apparel was given permission by LOOKBOOK.nu to publish user content … but the campaign was executed in a way that respected our community and gave credit where credit was due.”
LOOKBOOK.nu also shares content through editorial partnerships with publications like Vogue.de and Elle. In such cases, LOOKBOOK.nu asks the editors to contact the user to request permission for high resolution images and/or interviews. Yuri notes, “To date, no user has ever complained about being featured, recognized and credited on the German Vogue.com.”
Neither Chictopia nor Payless contacted bloggers whose photos were used in the Chictopia-generated style gallery on the Payless website. Jennifer Wendell, a California-licensed business-law attorney, says, “While bloggers and other site users agree to the practice (albeit, mostly because they don't read and/or understand what they are agreeing to), it still doesn't make it right for these other companies to make a profit off of them and without their knowledge.” Helen says, “Erin’s thoughts on getting her Chictopia profile linked by our partner is heard, and we are currently working on a solution to address this and make our community happy” As of this morning, blogger, Erin Hagstrom of Calivintage‘s photos have been removed. There are still no active links to the other users in the “read more” section of the photos in the gallery. Payless didn't provide a comment in time for publication about what, if anything, it paid Chictopia for the content. [UPDATE: After this story was posted — and a week after IFB first reported on Chictopia's arrangement with Payless — Chictopia officially announced the Payless partnership to its users. In its statement, Chictopia says that Payless doesn't pay to use bloggers' images. For the full statement, click here]
Expect More Collaborations
In Helen's comment, she said, “[Chictopia] Members and bloggers post photos, comments, reviews, or other content to get noticed. The contribution material may get tweeted, reblogged, and pulled on retailers’ sites for further recognition… As far as our future partnerships and site improvements, this article on Chictopia summarizes it all.” The link had an announcement of the new terms. Among them is:
Chictopia has launched a free API tool for partners to pull relevant images and create branded style galleries to give visibility to Chictopia’s members.
In other words, user-uploaded images will continue to be pulled and displayed in Style Galleries on partner sites, much like the Payless Style Gallery and its predecessor, the Keds Style Gallery (shown above).
What is the value of Chictopia members' visibility anyway?
Crosby Noricks, a digital strategist and founder of PR Couture, has worked with retailers eager to dive into the social-media sphere, with a particular interest in real-time conversations about their products and in images of customers wearing their products on the brand's website. “We know that shoppers are much more likely to purchase products that have ratings and reviews, and that shoppers trust the opinions of others, even strangers, above and beyond marketing messages from the brand itself.” Crosby says, “The benefits to the brand to have this kind of powerful, diverse and high-quality fashion photography of their products is clear.”
She goes on to say, “What is less clear to me is the benefit to the members of Chictopia. When I click on a photo in the Ked's style gallery, for example, there is no opportunity to engage directly with the Chictopia member who is being featured … a missed opportunity to grow engagement on Chictopia's side, as well as a missed opportunity to provide tanglible value (links, new fans, etc) to the member.”
So what now?
What now? It's really up to you. IFB is just here to ensure you can make informed decisions on how to build and protect your brand. We're not saying, “Don't use Chictopia” or any other social network. We are saying that if you do use Chictopia or other networks that you should read the Terms of Service and know what to expect. Facebook has repeatedly pushed the envelope on privacy while Chictopia plans to roll out more of these partnerships. Before you enthusiastically participate in any network, you should know how much you will benefit from such participation and how much the network will benefit.