Response from Chictopia: Expect More Style Galleries



chictopia keds style gallery

The Keds Style Gallery is a predecessor to the Payless Style Gallery, Chictopia plans to roll out more.


Written by Jennine Jacob and Wendy Brandes

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.

As far as terms and privacy policy is concerned, Chictopia is a social network to help bloggers get noticed, just like how Youtube is a platform to help filmmakers distribute content. Chictopia’s terms of service is no different than that of Twitter, Facebook, and many others. The Twitter widget on the left column of IFB’s blog pulls in tweets done by you, and sometimes you retweet content submitted by a third person. The third person may or may not realize that his/her tweet is seen on IFB, but people who submit to Twitter understand there is some level of public visibility involved in participating in a social network, both within the community and beyond. The third person may never know that his or her tweet was displayed on IFB, but I would not assume that the intent for IFB or Twitter is to exploit the third person user whose tweet got retweeted by you and displayed on your website.

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.

Helen says, “As far as terms and privacy policy is concerned, Chictopia is a social network to help bloggers get noticed, just like how Youtube is a platform to help filmmakers distribute content. Chictopia’s terms of service is no different than that of Twitter, Facebook, and many others.”

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, 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 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. has done four collaborations with fashion companies, all of which, Yuri says, were done without monetary compensation to 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 to publish user content … but the campaign was executed in a way that respected our community and gave credit where credit was due.” also shares content through editorial partnerships with publications like and Elle. In such cases, 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”

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?

If visibility is the goal of a Chictopia member, then is it visibility that has any value?

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.
Lawyer Jennifer Wendell advises, “The best thing for bloggers to do is to be proactive and actually read the contracts that they are agreeing to, to have their own Terms of Use / user agreements and privacy policies that publicly state that their information is protected, and to get politically active to have the laws changed to protect them.” You can take action to protect yourself by demanding networks provide “opt-in” privacy settings in plain English. You can support the senators working to establish FTC guidelines or legislation to help protect your privacy and you can ask your own politicians to support these measures (wherever you are in the world). And most of all, you can use your own influence to help raise awareness.

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40 Responses

  1. Kelsi Smith

    I think I made my feelings quite clear in the last comments thread, I think it’s unethical.

    I’m incredibly unimpressed by the way Chictopia have handled themselves and have deleted all my pictures from the site and have requested an account deletion as a result of this debacle. I will be remaining with Lookbook who have proved themselves the superior of the two throughout this.
    .-= Kelsi Smith´s last blog ..Inspired? =-.

  2. Thom

    This is 100% bang on. (Full disclosure – I once wrote for Chictopia and stopped after they tried to get me to sign a contract that made no sense whatsoever.)

    The response from Helen, who seems like a well-meaning person, is the kind of nonsense you hear all the time from people regarding using other people’s content. We give you exposure! We are collaborating! What this usually means is we’re taking your stuff, putting it somewhere else, and paying you nothing.

    My biggest issue with this isn’t that practice, but the fact that so many people on Chictopia are quite young, young and probably not aware of any legal obligations that might be owed to them. I see this becoming HUGE problem as social networks take over the world…er…connect us all together.

    • Ashe Mischief

      Thom, I definitely agree– and appreciate– the age issue you brought up. It’s something that came to my own attention with a recent post I wrote, where several teenagers commented. A 16 year old isn’t going to understand the Terms of Service, and technically, even if they agree to them, aren’t they null and void since they’re minors? (I don’t know, to be honest– but I always knew in high school that I could sign up for those music clubs, agree to the contract, and not be held responsible because I was a minor….)
      .-= Ashe Mischief´s last blog ..Links à la Mode: The IFB Weekly Roundup =-.

    • Jennine

      Don’t you do something legal for a living? Funny regarding the contract.

      The age thing is that’s one of my biggest concerns too. It’s hard to say ‘you’re signing away your rights’ when someone else is promising ‘visibility’ to a group who really desires this seemingly at any cost to themselves and to the rest of the community. It seems to me to be even more questionable to prey off the hopes of young people to harness their talents for profit without giving any real return.

      Hopefully things. I sure hope it doesn’t happen like how labor laws were established, a lot of getting worse before getting better.

  3. Grace

    Chictopia uses its members as means to an end (a big Kantian No-No). They argue that its for the benefit of the community, loathe to admit that the benefit is actually one-sided (in their favor alone). Sure, they may have mentioned it in the ToS – banking on the fact that no one actually reads those. When the actual image-stealing took place, the member was not informed, which was an appalling breach of trust. It doesn’t matter that they COULD do it. What matters is the WAY they did it, and how they’re backpedaling now.

    Chictopia is really only guilty of pursuing the Capitalist Dream: exploit the workers, profit, pretend like it’s all above board. That’s the wave of the business future, and Chictopia is leading the charge in the online fashion community: create contracts and ToS written with broad strokes and no boundaries on the language and let the member sign up unwittingly. Ensnare them early and dazzle them with fashion. This isn’t about community, really. I’m sick of hearing, “We’re doing this for YOU guys.”

    Intellectual property be damned. This is the internet we’re talking about.

    .-= Grace´s last blog ..My Spring Collection =-.

    • Jennine

      I don’t think they’re backpedaling. Nothing’s changed on behalf of Chictopia. Nothing’s changed on behalf of Payless, or Keds. Not one thing. You better believe this is going to continue.

      • Grace

        I just meant backpedaling with their language. “Hey, we’re just a social network with the same ToS as everyone else. We’re not doing anything anyone else isn’t doing.” (Which isn’t true)
        .-= Grace´s last blog ..My Spring Collection =-.

      • Jennine

        Yes, it sounds like they’re backpedaling, at first, then it’s like…woah, something is strange. You really have to really check everything to see that they’re not backpedaling at all. It’s crazy.

  4. La Belette Rouge

    Fantastic and informative article. I will admit that I have never heard of Chictopia—but even as a non-fashion blogger I take to heart the important message of “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.” I once read that everything you write on Facebook becomes the intellectual property of it and that scared me into really reading the fine print of the terms of service of my Facebook account and not just blithely trusting it because it is a household name( and hence must be benign;-). All of these networks are in the business of making money and it should be our business, before we share content with them, to be sure that they aren’t making money at our expense. Thanks, Jennine and Wendy!
    .-= La Belette Rouge´s last blog ..The curse of the aluminum swan =-.

    • Jennine

      And even if you do read the fine print, you have to monitor it, because it can change at any time, and you have to keep an eye out on the news to so you can find out what exactly the terms mean, because I don’t know about you, but the terms are worded in such a way, you can’t really comprehend what they’re planning on doing with it until it’s already done.

      Scary stuff. I just use my facebook profile for promotional purposes only. That network is so scary!

  5. Eli

    Thanks for posting this follow up. Bloggers need to have their voices heard. I deleted my photos from the chictopia, lookbook, and weardrobe sites after the last debacle. I’m considering posting on Lookbook again, but considering the amount of work vs the payback, I’m probably not even going to bother.

  6. Citizen Rosebud

    IFB: i love you!
    Thank-you so much for making me aware of this issue, and for the researched-based follow-up. I am going to close my Chictopia acct, and have new respect for (would anybody mind sending me an invite, por favor? [email protected] )

    And more than ever, so much respect for the voice and integrity of IFB. am so proud to be part of this community.
    .-= Citizen Rosebud´s last blog ..The Eyes Have It: An Interview with Eye from Orchid Style =-.

      • Marie Denee

        I just finished reading your article- such a great read! Then I hopped over to the above article. Knowing the backstory, I really want to laugh. Of course it is going to read with self gratuity for sharing all this “valuable” information” but it concerns me as they continue to forge ahead and make generalities to the FAQ:
        “Amazing gallery! I wish my photo was linked to my Chictopia blog from the Payless’ site so that shoppers can find out more about me.
        This enhancement is in the works right now. The change will be happening soon!”

        Rather than formally apologizing for not taking care of this BEFORE the issue arose, they are trying now to justify themselves in a way that “us bloggers and social media users” are hoped to take, and keep on moving along…

        PR FAIL.
        .-= Marie Denee´s last blog ..Plus Size Fashion Week in Review =-.

  7. Jillian

    This is a wonderful follow-up to the last article. Thank you for taking the time and initiative to do this research and for presenting your findings in such a clear and easy to understand manner.

    Another issue that concerns me is how our employers will respond to this new privacy issue. I’m sure everyone has heard warnings about how your facebook pictures/content can be cause for dismissal at some schools and companies – so it’s not hard for me to imagine the same thing happening with sites like Chictopia.

    I work in the fashion industry and at my last two positions, I was asked to sign contracts that placed limitations on the types of content that I can blog about (ex. nothing that harms the company as I am a representative of the brand etc.) and included some advertising restrictions (ex. it’s not really cool to let our competitors advertise on your blog).

    Let’s say I worked for one of Payless’ competitors, while the company might not mind an employee sharing their personal style on the web (in fact, they might encourage it), I sincerely doubt they would respond well to seeing their employee’s image used on the Payless website. Imagine the mess that could lead to. This is one of the reasons that I find the “we’re giving you exposure” defense to be so offensive. Bloggers are not one homogeneous group, we all have different reasons for blogging and different objectives. We don’t all want the same types of exposure!

    Ultimately, those of us who are of legal age to consent, are bound to the agreements that we make with these companies. I think this issue has rightfully reminded us of the importance of reading Terms of Service. I hope it will also encourage users, especially younger ones, to think about the consequences of hosting their content online – particularly with companies that have the ability/desire to “share” our images/writing/etc. in additional formats and with additional companies.

    I would also hope that these social media networks would realize that just because they can – doesn’t mean they should! Being trustworthy and ethical goes a really long way…
    .-= Jillian´s last blog ..Music Monday: Macy Gray =-.

  8. kelsie

    Hmm the response from Chictopia seems very shady. I would love to know the real facts on how many users they loose as people become aware of their business practices!

  9. Laura

    I think it would be good to consider that it is possible all of the publicity generated through IFB on this exact topic might create an adverse effect and alert other businesses to the benefits of buying user-generated content. In fact, by calling so much attention to Payless’ unethical practices, we are actually generating a lot of traffic flow to their site. I understand that it is better to stand up and cause controversy about a topic that affects so many of us and will surely become a much more prevalent issue in the future, but I think we should recognize how paradoxical and counter-effective our struggles may be.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..Rebel Rebel: Waste of Time =-.

    • WendyB

      You could say that about a lot of stories, Laura. I don’t think the fear that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” justifies keeping silent on any issue. The truth gives us a chance to have a positive effect. Silence accomplishes nothing.

      • Laura

        Yes, Wendy, I completely agree that it is better to fight than stifle your own voice, I was just commenting on how it is frustrating that our struggle for our rights is actually rewarding those who have tried to take them from us.

  10. Diya

    wow, after reading this post and the previous post I went to mode republic to scan over their ToS and look what I found… I’m no lawyer (although my bf is and I’m going to have him read over all the ToS of communities I sign up for from now on) but this sounds sketchy…

    “By submitting User Submissions to Mode Republic, or displaying, publishing, or otherwise posting any content on or through the Service, you hereby do and shall grant Mode Republic an irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully paid, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, modify, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, perform, and otherwise fully exploit the User Submissions in connection with the Service and Mode Republic’s (and its successors and assigns) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels

    WHAT? Maybe I should stop posting there?
    .-= Diya´s last blog ..simplicity =-.

  11. Lesley Taylor

    This is all very interesting….and the Terms of Service (as seen above) is typical. I read the Luuux site’s ToS and it is even more explicit…..notice that the terms spell out that they can “exploit” your content.

    “While you own all of your own User-Generated Content, you hereby grant us, our licensees of the Applications and business partners a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sub licensable, PERPETUAL AND IRREVOCABLE RIGHT AND LICENSE TO USE AND EXPLOIT YOUR USER-GENERATED CONTENT FOR ANY PURPOSE. Furthermore, you hereby grant us, our licensees of the Applications and business partners the right to publicly exhibit, display, reproduce, store, distribute, alter or make other use of videos, photographs, images or likenesses of you, or in which you may be included with others. You consent to such uses in any medium now known or developed in the future, including photographs, video, slide shows, Internet images or other mediums, means of storage or distribution. YOU AGREE THAT SUCH IMAGES AND LIKENESSES OF YOU CAN BE USED WITH OR WITHOUT YOUR NAME.”

    Yes, there are a lot of bloggers out there, but they are not all that good. I suspect that companies gain from being able to exploit bloggers with good, valuable content. I strongly feel that we shouldn’t participate in any community unless they include – along side the legalese – something like the following:


  12. Cara Mia

    This whole thing is just a shame. If a major cooperation were to shoot an ad campaign, online or otherwise, the models used for that campaign would be compensated. Some fashion bloggers are essentially amateur, and in some cases professional models, and should likewise be compensated. Period!

    Thank you for covering this story and continuing to help fashion bloggers stay informed!
    .-= Cara Mia´s last blog ..BOHEMIAN GLAMOUR =-.

  13. CreativeFluff

    Good Article, I agree though with some of the comments, but when you write an article about an artist or designer, you are totally giving them press.