The Tin Shingle Blog - #Legal
As of the writing of this article, SOPA and PIPA have been put on hold by the U.S. Congress (here's a good description of SOPA happenings before today and here is a dated timeline of SOPA and PIPAs evolution). The timeline of events leading to its demise is startling, swift, and efficient. Even though it is frightening to think how easily these bills could have gone through, which could lead to a slipperly slope of wrangling in the Internet, and the freedom of expression and commerce with which we enjoy within the Internet, let's not miss the opportunity to think about a real problem that is going on - free downloading or lifting of creations by hard working people - Americans and those in all countries producing music, film, books, and any other form of entertainment we enjoy and now take for granted.
The intent of the SOPA bill was this, as stated on the bill H.R. 3261 - "Stop Online Piracy Act" on OpenCongress.org, a website that posts bills for you to view in full text, and track the progress of: "To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes."
This statement is valid, worth fighting for, and you play a direct role in protecting it - with your dollar. In order to protect intellectual property, which can lead to commerce in any form, be it sold online, at a street fair, or in a movie theatre, people must buy it. They must shell out the cash. The cash comes back to you in many ways, especially in your local community, by making your immediate surroundings a better place. If you don't buy it, if you download free music at a cool website, if you download a free Droid app that streams free movies, or if you grab a DVD that is just released in the theatres from a street vendor (not good local support), you are hurting the global economy. Yes, global. The whole world goes down a notch every time you take a free download. The people involved in making your entertainment are working together from all over the world. Tax incentives might make it better to film a movie in Romania, than in New York City. Musicians band together from anywhere, and tour anywhere that will take them - and pay them. YOU MUST PAY THESE PEOPLE, or the music will stop.
Creators who do not get compensated for their creations won't be able to make your entertainment anymore. You may be upset that a movie costs $13.50, or that a small popcorn costs $11. And that a night at the movies may cost you $70 if you have children who need a babysitter (which is actually one more local person benefiting from the movie industry). This price anger does not entitle anyone to a free movie download for their viewing pleasure. If no one is paid, movies won't get made. Plain and simple. 1 + 1 = 2. And that's it. You have to:
1 (buy the ticket), + 1 (create the piece of entertainment) = 2 (happy viewer/listener/reader)
We at Tin Shingle called our Congressman to stop the bills. We agree wtih Marc Zuckerburg's and then Facebook's official statement about thinking carefully about how legislation for the Internet is created. I personally am directly impacted by the economy of the entertainment industry because my husband works in it (despite this great SOPA/PIPA video, where the only flaw is that it dismisses the economic impact of the entertainment industry). We, along with many other film people, suffered with uncertainty during the Writer's Strike of 2007-2008 when writers were fighting "the studios" for compensation for online viewing of their written work. And now "the studios" are fighting "we the people" for compensation for viewing entertainment, and have tried to get the big guns to make that happen, with legislation and enforcement.
The thing is, there will always be excuses as to why someone isn't getting a piece of the pie. During the Writer's Strike, a producer friend explained to me that "the studios" were holding up paying the writers fairly because they didn't know how to measure views of a show that a writer wrote. However, this friend must not have realized that I know that that isn't true, being that I'm a website producer and am obsessed with tracking traffic on websites. Websites, especially corporate ones with big money, can know exactly how many views their videos get, so this excuse is bull-$hit and an excuse to not pay. See all of these examples of not paying people going around? Irks me.
We should keep a strong focus on Internet piracy. It's a huge problem that directly impacts the household incomes of many Americans. Supporters of the bill who were anti-opposition, like Ex-Senator Chris Dodd (why is he still around?), MPAA' (Motion Pictures of America) chief executive. Folks like him will continue misleading us and missing focus. Early on in the protest, he declared the blackouts at protesting websites an "abuse of power". Abuse of power? To what, taking away a service of at the very least, free content, and at the very most, a service you pay for to help your personal or professional life. Abuse of power would be if the electric company shut down the electricity without asking you. Or if companies who supply servers that supply millions of websites with actual electrical power shut down their servers without asking their customers, in order to create a more wide-spread Internet blackout with no opt-in agreement to the business owner paying them to keep the lights on at the website. Chris Dodd is wrong when he called the 24 voluntary blackout of specific websites an abuse of power. It was a freedom of expression, which is what we're all trying to protect and live by.
Now that the bills have been put on hold, and 13 million people called their Congresspeople, and more millions flooded congressional servers and unintentionally caused them to crash (like with The Today Show or the Daily Candy Effect) Chris Dodd has changed his tune, according a New York Times article (but I learned about it an email from FighttheFuture.org) “'This is altogether a new effect,' Mr. Dodd said, comparing the online movement to the Arab Spring. He could not remember seeing 'an effort that was moving with this degree of support change this dramatically' in the last four decades, he added."
Whatever, Mr. Dodd.
Just please, people, pay for what you want. It keeps the services coming to you. And keeps big guns out of meddling with laws that limit our creation of business and creation.
A good video for early cliff notes is here:
A few other good articles are here:
Theres an article up in the Wall Street Journal, "Why Now is the Time to Seek Investors" that outlines a series of tax incentives that make it extremely attractive for investors looking to invest in small businesses and other entrepreneurial ventures. Deals have to close by December 31, 2011, but with incentives like 'zero tax on profits after 5 years', you may find that investors are getting interested in getting back into the start-up game.
Have you considered funding from an angel-investor? Tell us about it
You may have read already that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has amended its guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials, last changed in 1980, to require bloggers to disclose a financial relationship they have with an advertiser or agency when publishing a review about a product or service. This most likely has to do with bloggers such as those recruited now by Walmart, Lifetime, or other big brands trying to influence the bloggosphere, but nonetheless, the guidelines do not discriminate. In the words of the FTC:
|The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.|
The Wall Street Journal published a piece on this, implying that the FTC wanted to restrict gift giving to bloggers, and followed up with at least two clarifying articles which made it clear that the FTC was targeting advertisers, and not bloggers, to maintain the ethical responsibility to fully disclose when bloggers are paid to positively review a product. In the FTC article mentioned above, tweets from Twitter are not mentioned, but The Wall Street Journal does include them in its analysis, as any experienced online person would as well, since both blogs and personal Twitter feeds aka "micro-blogs" and are being used to endorse products and services, both in a paid-for-services way, and in a strictly editorial way.
Discussion on this topic can go in several directions, including the direction of federal government involvement in general and whether or not it's a good idea. Let's refrain from that conversation, and instead focus on why the FTC was compelled to amend these guidelines in the first place. Usually government springs into action based on a relevant current issue. The issue here is clear: the bloggosphere has been growing and growing. The Twittersphere has been growing even faster because creating content for a "micro-blog" is a lot easier than publishing a proper and effective blog post. That said, some bloggers and tweeters are taking liberties with their public voices which may not be in the best interest of maintaining truth and trust when endorsing a product or service, and can actually pollute so called "word-of-mouth" marketing. Let's explore:
BLOGGING: BACK TO BASICS
Bloggers started blogging, in my opinion at least, to have a voice. As a voice, they had to say something worthwhile to maintain an audience. Some were talented enough to just write about their lives. Others had to have themes and be top trendspotters. Like magazines, they searched the world for good product or service to recommend. Early PR firms or boutique firms actually had their finger on the pulse of this word-of-mouth movement that at the time, was extremely genuine because bloggers had devoted followings - small or large - each had some kind of influence over purchasing decisions. As a blogger myself, my first direct pitch was from then first time author Jennifer Solow. She reached out to me to review her then new book, The Booster. Her directive: if you like it, please blog about it. If you don't like it, please don't. Well I did review it, but *gasp* I didn't mention that she sent me the book to read. Ethics would indicate that maybe I should have disclosed that I got a free book, but you know what? If the book was bad, A. I'm not going to finish it, and B. I'm not going to recommend it to anyone because my reputation would not be trusted when others went out and bought it and were bored stiff. But I could have added a little sentance at the bottom of the post. It would not have hurt my blog post in any way.
True blogging, in my opinion, is just genuine. If you really need a sample in order to give a proper review, fine. For the nomie baby car seat cover, sending a sample to a mom blogger makes sense because it needs to be mom-tested-and-approved. But for a designer like SpoonFedArt, whose publicist first emailed me long ago, little tips about cool stuff can go a long way. When I opened the email from the publicist to tell me about something wonderful that just happened for the then new company SpoonFedArt, I read it, liked the product, and blogged about it, saying how fun my inbox was those days.
TWEETING: THE $1 TWEET
Or is that the McDonalds dollar menu?
Tin Shingle tweets for our members who pay for membership. Our tweets spread naturally b/c the links are just so good. Tweeting information about our members is clearly stated in our membership benefits (we refer to it as Promotyping, a term we made up), but it's also a no-brainer for us, and we couldn't not do it if we tried (that's why we made it a benefit). This is a most creative and effective use of a Twitter feed for potential profit (because yes, people do understand that part of their Tin Shingle membership includes endorsements from us via social networking). We didn't sell our Twitter souls for our 140 character real estate for $1 to tweet about a random product from some random guy hocking his wares. That would dilute our Twitter strength, and thus hurt our actual recommendations. If you are considering selling your Twitter stream for $1 a tweet regardless of what the product is and if you like it or not, think again if you want quality followers.
ETHICS: WHO'S JOB IS IT TO BE ETHICAL or JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY
Bloggers who are in this for the free stuff should re-think the impact of their voices, and consider going back to basics, where their voice is key, and trust is their golden egg. You don't need to review a piece of art or a limited edition product to know you you like the look of it. If you're so concerned about integrity, put on a disclaimer that you've never actually touched the fabric or the spoon, and to buy at your own risk. But come on people.
The Wall Street Journal points out that "...newspapers generally prohibit reporters from accepting gifts from a company they write about to protect their credibility with readers." Note that reason: to protect their credibility with readers. Bloggers do not have an editorial department or publisher to please. They just press "publish" and up it goes for the world to see. This is great, but requires self-monitoring to make sure you are fairly representing an industry of words.
Thanks @kelcott for passing along this article from Gally Cat: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/web_tech/how_big_is_the_ftcs_new_fo...
Most "celebrities" probably don't even want to be called "celebrities", so let's just call them people who are in movies, for the purposes of this blog post.
I started this topic in the Forum to gather thoughts on the subject, called "What to do when a celebrity buys your product". But then I realized that there really is only one thing to: ship them the product and go about your busy day. A "friend" of mine (because I would never do something this thoughtless, of course) had an order from a person who is in movies. She knew this because the famous person just put down their name in the shipping area, just like any person would do. It was the person in the movie's attempt at being normal, and not having to set an alter ego in order to perform a normal and enjoyable function of life: online shopping.
So, if this happens to you, just know, that even if your friends are doing it, and leaking to everyone that so-and-so bought this, take your hands away from the keyboard, get a glass of water (not coffee, because who knows what you're capable of at that point), and think. If you feel that this person's testimony would help your brand, then treat them as you would any other person who is not sought after by cameras, and politely ask them, or let them know how to go about submitting a review, if you have such a function on your website. Otherwise, they are just a normal person, a wonderful customer who enjoys your product.
Sure, there are creative ways you could work together if they think they can help your brand, but approach these ways with care and respect. Otherwise, you may be served with an email from a disappointed customer, and a lawyer letter, warning you of your actions.
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