Protecting Your Blog Content: The NickMom Blog Controversy

I know a lot of new bloggers wonder about online copyright. Is it OK to use images or information you find online? Answer: If you get permission, yes. Just because something (a picture, content, whatever) is online does not mean that content isn’t protected by copyright. And here’s something else you should know: Citing your source isn’t the same as having permission. NickMom is finding this out the hard way. The national brand (who should know better) has been re-purposing other bloggers’ content for a while, but last week it finally blew up thanks to their antagonizing both Type-A Mom and How To Be a Dad.

Overview of situation

Basically, NickMom spoofed a type of mom personality (Type-A) via a made-up Facebook interaction that they posted on Pinterest. Unfortunately, they also infringed on the Type-A Mom brand owned by Kelby Carr. When Amy Bair pointed out the infringement in the Pinterest comments, her comments were deleted. As Kelby and others tried to engage NickMom on social channels, NickMom ignored them, then responded with flippant remarks and missed the point completely (then went back to ignoring the situation):

NickMom rips off and ignores bloggers

Then it came to light that NickMom also hired a designer to create an image that was incredibly close to one already published by How To Be a Dad. As bloggers started talking about these issues, comparing notes, and searching the NickMom site, it became apparent that this wasn’t NickMom’s first plagiarism rodeo. It turns out they’ve been taking images from people’s sites (usually pictures of people’s children no less) and using them as fodder for their humor blog as well as re-purposing ideas from other bloggers. In one example, NickMom used a blogger’s watermarked photo and covered up the watermark with their own text.

You can read more about the NickMom debacle (and see examples) in these posts:

Fix the Problem

When you ask me if you can use something you find on the internet on your blog, I’m going to tell you to get permission from the owner. Just because you find something cool on the internet doesn’t mean it’s fair game for you to re-use or infringe upon — especially if it’s someone’s brand or image (and especially if that image is of a minor). Here are some helpful links to help you understand Fair Use and how to report stolen content if that’s ever an issue for you:

12 Responses

  1. Julie @ The Family CEO September 17, 2012 / 8:49 am

    Asking permission from other bloggers isn’t only the right thing to do, but it helps you build relationships as well. That’s assuming you’re planning to use their photo/content in a positive way.

    • Melanie Nelson September 17, 2012 / 9:15 am

      That’s an excellent point, Julie! Making those positive connections is so important and it’s an easy way to network!

  2. Sara Hawkins September 17, 2012 / 9:20 am

    NickMom has really pushed the limits on their site. Besides the fact they’re owned by media-giant Viacom and pulling some of this nonsense, blaming the problems on freelancers isn’t going to make the problem go away.

    Viacom and Nickelodeon both know more than the average blogger when it comes to intellectual property. NickMom has, at its disposal, an army of attorneys who can advise them. If, in fact they did consult their legal team before setting up the site I’m surprised the NickMom project got the green light.

    Besides offending the online community that feed your parent sites and supports your shows and programming, NickMom has seemed to go out of its way to offend the same people Nick Jr., Nickelodeon and other Viacom properties have relied on to build their communities. And to tread on such a relationship shows just how little these media companies value the relationships of their blogging partners.

    The issues raised by nature of the NickMom site are many and there are quite a few that are more complicated than can be explained in a comment. Yes, nearly all their content is owned and likely copyrighted by a 3rd party. Some of the uses may by excepted under Fair Use. But here’s the rub – they don’t determine Fair Use (note the use of capital letters to designate it as a legal term). Only a court can definitively determine if an infringing use is Fair Use. A copyright holder must sue and the infringer must raise Fair Use as a defense to the infringing use.

    Sure, the DMCA allows a copyright holder to request a hosting service to take down a copyrighted image. However, if user can object to such a claim and the host is left in the middle. In this case, NickMom has the host on its side b/c it’s likely owned by its parent organization. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. So the copyright holder is left having to seek help via the courts – and most copyright holders just can’t afford that fight with a media giant.

    When it comes to branding, that’s a much more complicated issue. Trademark laws are not as “user friendly” as copyright laws are (and that’s assuming one believes Copyright laws are user friendly). There is no DMCA equivalent for trademark which leaves the trademark holder few options – both of which likely involve hiring an attorney.

    The biggest offense in all of this is that NickMom traded on the goodwill of a community that helped build the Nick brand. The question remains, though, was this a bridge burning or did they completely tear down the bridge making repair much more costly or even impossible.

    • Melanie Nelson September 17, 2012 / 9:29 am

      Sarah, thank you so much for your comment. You’ve clarified a few things for me (and for my readers, I’m sure). And you discuss the biggest issue of all: NickMom’s betrayal of the very bloggers they are trying to create relationships with. I’m watching this play out and am very interested to see how Nickelodeon and NickMom handle the situation at this point. They had so many missteps in the beginning that I wonder if, as you say, they’ll be able to repair the bridge at all.

  3. Fedobe September 20, 2012 / 3:04 am

    Great stuff! I think these points are very helpful for every blogger, and every blogger should know about it.

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  5. Donnas Robet September 24, 2012 / 7:00 am

    The protecting your blog content were great and it was real informative

  6. larissavictorian September 28, 2012 / 2:04 am

    As blogging in general there is no copyright issue, even if the site was using an item under Fair use then you can still ask them for the item to be removed and they should remove. Photos can be use without permission if there is no copyright. A great post with full of helpful advice.

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