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Posted on May 8, 2009 | 33 comments

Bento bloggers: Know your worth!

Bento bloggers: Know your worth!

090508a textBento 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.)

She writes:

  1. “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.
  2. “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.

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.
  4. “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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. File a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) complaint with their ISP, and
  3. File a complaint with Google AdSense if they’re running Google Ads on the page. This hits ‘em where it hurts: their revenue stream.
  4. 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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  1. Great post Biggie. This actually applies in all aspects of food blogging. Nearly every day I see blogs where I feel like the blogger is not valuing their content enough and sometimes being completely taken advantage of!

  2. Great article. So much to learn but articles like this help us bloggers out so much. Thank you!

  3. I agree with everything you’re saying and it makes good sense, but I feel a bit hurt that you feel the need to insult “media types” just because a few bad eggs or foreign newspapers (probably in countries with different copyright laws and less resources to spend on using outside work)do something without crediting you.

    Obviously everyone in the mass media is [not] the best person ever, but have you counted up all the times a publication HAS properly contacted you to use your stuff and compared it with the number of times they haven’t? If that number is even slightly larger or even close to the number of times a publication hasn’t bothered contacting you, then how can you lump us “media types” all together?

    There are definitely those of us who are trying to do right by you out there and we are sick of people put us down like this! Not every single person working in mass media is out to wrong you!

  4. Pardon me, in my previous comment, I meant to put “everyone in the mass media is NOT the best person ever.”

    Sorry for the typo.

  5. @3 from Daniella: Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Daniella. For clarity, I’ve edited it to add the word “not” where you intended.

    Just to be clear, the comment about “media types” was from my source and not myself. I’ve had very good experiences with mass media, my husband is a journalist, and I’ve worked closely with the media for many years in a professional capacity. I agree that most journalists go out of their way to properly credit sources and source material, but bloggers should be aware that sometimes things fall through the cracks or aren’t properly checked, and should follow up accordingly.

  6. Daniella, Biggie clearly says “these” media types, meaning ones that essentially steal images. I don’t see – at all – that she was trying to paint all those who work in media with the same brush.

    Wonderful post, Biggie, and thank you for the great tips!

  7. Thank you for posting this. Yes, yes and yes, if you do the work and it appears in print, you need to be paid for it.

    I cannot thank you enough for reminding people of this.

  8. thankfully, I have been linking occasionally in my posts back to other posts, that was how I found out about the most recent splog attack. Appreciate these links, very helpful!

  9. Thank you for this post! You don’t mind if I put it up on my own blog, do you? Seriously, I recently contacted a distant relative to ask if he minded if I used a photo from his blog, and his response was, of course, that he thought anything posted on the internet, including by him, was fair game. This from an extremely talented photographer. Ouch.

  10. This is great stuff. Thanks for this, Biggie. I want to ditto David’s comment that a lot of times they use big sites (I have mostly dealt with Blogger, actually)… and once I flag the site, I have had great success in alerting the other blogs from which they are stealing content, and we all get together, flag the blog which soon gets pulled.

    Thanks again for this post.

  11. I think some of the general public can be a bit ignorant on that thing called copyright infringement! That said, in response to Libby, I have run across that attitude on the net where people think its alright to repost work that isn’t theirs without proper credit because they figure its fair game. A lot of time I think it is innocent but a cease and desist is enough for a fair minded individual to figure it out.

    I sometimes save images into my computer because I love them so much but I have a keyword in the file that reminds me not to repost it unless given credit or I just don’t post it. Sometimes I like to make icons out of images but I’m wondering is that under the copyright infringement?

    Perhaps a web bill of rights may be in order for every website out there?

  12. thanks for all these usefull advice, Biggie, as usual!

  13. I think this is great advice for bloggers of any topic. Keep it up, Biggie.

  14. Hi Biggie,
    I hope everything is going ok, been awhile since you last posted.

    KCatGU

  15. @17 from KCatGU: Thanks for checking up on me, KCatGU. Things have been pretty weird with me lately — it’s past time to get my head back in the bento game!

  16. It’s good to see that you’re still alive Biggie. ;P I think I can safely say that we’ve all been missing you. ;-;

  17. I was wondering if you were okay also. Glad to see you are trying to get back.
    Shelly

  18. Just found this awesome blog on twitter!! :)
    great post!! :)

    Niki926 – maybe your daughter can be educated about healthy food etc & usual food practices of places that sell lunch..? (articles, online stuff, maybe a movie or two..) – also, she can buy lunch with her own money & the bentos remain free? ;)
    might be an incentive if she wants to save up for other stuff..??

  19. Hi Biggie! I love this! I just sent you an email to your gmail addy but (ha!) I wanted to talk to you about a potential partnership. Check your gmail acct for more details!

  20. Great post Biggie, but when are you going to update your page again!? It’s been nearly a month and I’m hungry for new posts/ideas from you!

  21. Great post, thanks for the info!

  22. this is really good advice for any blogger whose material might be used elsewhere. thank you!

  23. Hi Biggie- Thanks for this information. I agree with the previous comments. Where are you and looking forward to the next post. Hope all is well.

  24. this information is sooo valuable! thank you!

    i need to let you know that on the blog i put up yesterday, i used a photo from your blog but credited you and included a link to your blog.

    is that okay? i can remove your photo and the link, if you like. sorry i didn’t check with you first.

  25. @29 from Sarah: Oh, that’s totally fine — I appreciate the link and photo credit. Thanks for the heads up! :-)

  26. It is truly a sad day when, not only do SEEMINGLY intelligent women spend (valuable?) time wedging fussy junk food into little boxes, but with the few extra moments they DO “scrape” (HA!) together, whine about “their” miniscule non-ideas being stolen.

    NEWS FLASH: Most ideas are NOT original, and if you spent HALF as much time creating REAL VALUE in this world besides this inane bullshit, you might have the celebrity that you so clearly crave (as evidenced by your obsession with your NON “intellectual property”).

    HINT: Arrange a symphony, NOT FOOD.

    Dorks, all.

  27. @31 from too busy: I agree that most IDEAS are not original with this sort of thing, and it’s not worth worrying about someone writing on similar topics. The key issue here is rather the unauthorized use of the actual original work (the photos and exact text of the blog posts themselves, which are covered by copyright law).

    When people spend time creating original work, it’s entirely reasonable to protect that from misappropriation — be it music, writing, art, photography, etc.

    Looking forward to your symphony! ;-)

  28. I have a feeling that symphony will be Sonata in Troll, D flat Minor.

    Seriously, I’m glad I stumbled on this, since it shoehorned nicely with a discussion a professor and I had today. The short version is that the basic purpose of copyright law is to allow the creator of a given thing to “control the flow of commerce” regarding the use of that work. In that sense, ability shouldn’t matter, nor should subject matter or even use. There are some mediocre photos that are very commercially successful and there are amazing photos that are kept for strictly personal use. The point isn’t whether the work is good enough or original enough or important enough to merit legal protection. The point is that the law has long recognized the the creator has certain rights regarding their works and that society as a whole has an interest in protecting those rights. There isn’t a threshold of “good enough,” “successful enough,” or “serious enough” that one has to cross in order to get the benefit of legal protection. As long as the basic criteria for copyright are met, then you get the legal protection.

    Of course, as you noted earlier, it’s very often not worth pursuing the issue, but I still do think it’s important to recognize that the very act of posting photos, writing blogs, and everything else is a creative effort and could potentially be a commercial venture; therefore, people have the right to want to exercise the control that is legally granted to them over their creations.

  29. @33 from Brooke: Ha, I believe I’m familiar with that tune! Also seriously, thank you for your thoughtful and informative comment; you’ve definitely added value to the conversation.

  30. Wonderful information, thanks so much Biggie.