Bento bloggers: Know your worth!
Bento lunches are starting to attract a lot of mainstream attention outside of Japan, with bentos appearing more often in the popular media, new bento books and classes, panels at anime and blogging conferences, new and active bento forums, and an explosion of bento blogs. Great news, right?
On a concerning note, I’ve started hearing from talented bento bloggers who have been approached by authors putting together bento books compiling photos and recipes by people in the bento community, but offering little to no compensation for their contributions. Now, it can be flattering and exciting to get attention like this for the first time, and being published does give you exposure and opens doors. But make sure you don’t underestimate your own worth when entering negotiations! Remember that you’re providing something of value that the book “author” and publisher will be making money from, so make sure you’re properly compensated and legally protected with a detailed contract. Don’t be exploited and regret it later — go in with your eyes open and make your own decisions about what you find acceptable.
A prominent bento blogger, whose work has appeared in numerous books and magazines, recently approached me about this issue and offers the following advice so others can benefit from her experiences. She wishes to remain anonymous so as to not alienate publishers she works with, but I know and respect her work. (Read on for her tips and mine on protecting your work online, tracking where your posts and photos are being used, and how to file effective legal complaints.)
- “To an extent, it is an honor to be asked to contribute to a book or magazine. But contributors are paid. If the story is not ABOUT you (as in, a reporter asks you questions about bento, your life, etc., and asks if they can show a couple of pieces of your work - that’s publicity and you don’t get paid), then you are a CONTRIBUTOR and you should expect to be reimbursed. You are providing recipes and artwork… material that makes their magazine more readable and profitable. They are making money off you. I’ve worked with small art magazines who could only offer me $25 and vouchers for free subscriptions due to budget constraints, but they offer something. If they never offer anything, that should set off warning bells.
- “This goes double for books. ‘No contract or pay, but you get a free copy’ doesn’t get it. A publisher should offer a contract and tell you, straight up, what you will be paid for your contribution. If you submit extra work, be it photos or writing, don’t be shy about negotiating an additional charge. An up-front publisher will be glad to work with you on this front (provided you don’t get prima-donna and obnoxious, of course). Save everything - contract copies, mail, email. Remember, they are making money off you.”
For the average Flickr user without a standalone blog, my source has some tips on tracking down where your photos are being used so you can make sure to get proper credit.
- “If they haven’t already, they should get BigHugeLabs.com’s Flickr dna and link it to their Flickr account. From there, they can access their profile and get all sorts of useful information, such as detailed view stats and which ones have been in explore. The Explore script seems to break from time to time, so it’s not 100%. The one really good feature is the “Ego Surf”. This follows linked pictures from Flickr through Technorati, Google, Google Blog Search, Yahoo Search, IceRocket and Bloglines Search. By checking these regularly, you can see who is (legitimately, through Flickr) using your pictures and in what context.
- “This doesn’t cover all of the people who don’t use the Flickr link to post your pictures (preferring to save your picture to their computer and repost it), but still give you credit. People who do bento on Flickr should also periodically Google their Flickr name to see what else pops up.
- “Some people will use your bento pictures and won’t credit you. This is bad and needs to be nipped in the bud if you can find it. Do periodic searches for bento, especially in the Google “news” tab, and look to see what photos have been used for illustrations. I’ve had a lot of newspapers, especially foreign ones, nab my photos off Flickr and use them without crediting the source. If you’ve given your bento a name, or it has a distinguishing characteristic (like ‘Spa Bento’), Google the name every once in a while. You’d be surprised (and sometimes irritated) at what pops up.
- “Many times I don’t know that something of mine has appeared in a foreign newspaper or magazine until I get a sudden influx of emails from that country. There’s not always a lot you can do - my attorney says that usually (not always), the cost involved outweighs the benefit - but if someone is going to use your work, you should at least know about it. I’m always thankful for people who are willing to write and give me a heads-up. I think these media types really need to shape up on the ethics front.”
To this, I’d also add a few tips of my own:
- Set up Google Alerts to send you regular notifications when your blog, your name, or other keywords are mentioned (see the Food Blog Alliance post on how to use Google Alerts).
- Post only lower-resolution photos online if you’re concerned about improper use, and watermark them. If a magazine or newspaper wants to use them, they can contact you privately for a higher quality version and you retain control over your work.
- Make sure you’ve set out a clear copyright or Creative Commons License for your photos and blog posts, and know the differences between them. A number of corporate blogs I know regularly use Flickr photos to illustrate their own posts, but can be lax on the terms of the copyright. Remember that if they’re running ads, they’re making money indirectly from your work. If they’ve run afoul of your copyright and it’s something you’re unhappy about, let them know and have them either credit you properly or remove the photo. If you don’t care, have a coffee and go enjoy the day!
These tips assume good faith on the side of the other party, but sometimes you run across black hat bloggers (“scrapers” or “sploggers” — short for “spam bloggers”) who copy entire blog posts of yours with photos and run it on their own site without attribution (generally with Google Ads alongside, providing them income from your hard work). I like to include internal links in my posts to other posts on my blog, and use partial RSS feeds to help track these odd incidents down. Food Blog S’cool has valuable information from the food blogging community on new splogs they’ve found, and feedback on methods for tracking them down and having copyrighted work removed.
When I do find a splog that has scraped my entire blog feed and is running it as their own, I e-mail them to nicely ask to have my posts removed, but am generally met with total silence as they know exactly what they’re doing and have no intention of stopping unless forced. If you find your work on a splog, your best recourse is to:
- Use WHOIS to find out who’s responsible for the site and get their direct contact information. Send an e-mail informing them that they’re using your copyrighted material, and ask them to cease and desist, and remove your material. If you like, let them know that you’ll be filing a DMCA complaint and reporting them to Google Adsense if they do not remove your work.
- File a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint with their ISP, and
- File a complaint with Google AdSense if they’re running Google Ads on the page. This hits ‘em where it hurts: their revenue stream.
- If you see that other blogs are being scraped, not just your own, take a moment to try to identify where the other posts have come from and alert the real blog author. If there are numerous ripoffs, you may also want to post something to Food Blog S’cool (general food) or the BentoLunch community on LiveJournal (bento-specific) to alert others to check if their work is being used there.
What are your experiences and tips that I’ve missed? Share them in comments!
UPDATE: In other news, I’ve decided to create a #bentobox hashtag in Twitter for tweets relating to bento-style lunches. If you use Twitter, just include the word #bentobox (complete with the # sign) in any of your bento-related tweets so that we can easily find relevant info. It should help us find bento-related info (not Filemaker Bento software info!) more quickly and drive traffic to your Twitter feeds and bento blogs. You can see other Twitter hashtags and trending topics at hashtags.org on a slight delay. I’m Biggie on Twitter if you want to see how I’m using the #bentobox tag for related tweets.
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