Monday, October 19, 2009

Blogs, The FTC, and Disclosure

Controversy has been swirling since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its revised "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising" which applies regulations regarding endorsements and testimonials to online publications including blogs and social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter. The FTC maintains that people writing online should disclose any material relation with the sellers of a product or service. For instance, someone posting a book review should reveal whether they received the book, other goods, or compensation from that book's publisher. The goal is to apply truth in advertising to bloggers and other online publishers.

An opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal (October 19, 2009) "Bloggers Mugged by Regulators"by Information Age columnist L. Gordon Crovitz raises serious questions about the effect of these guidelines on the First Amendment Right to Free Speech. Should people writing on the Internet have less freedom than those writing in other media? The Wall Street Journal daily publishes a book review; the authors of these reviews do not reveal their relationship to the publisher or author of the book or whether they received a copy of the book for free. Should writers on the web be required to make a disclosure?

On the other hand, bloggers who receive payment for product endorsements are advertising, and shouldn't they come under the same regulations as other advertisers? See Is that blogger review really a paid ad? The FTC wants to know on for a discussion on this topic.

A full analyis of the FTC Guides and their implication for bloggers can be found at Andy Sernovitz blog. Sernovitz, the author of Word of Mouth Marketing, is an expert on interactive marketing.

For the record, I do not receive compensation, payment, or free samples from the publishers or manufacturers of any of the products I discuss in my blog. All book reviews and demonstrations of Web 2.0 applications are based solely on my experience with these products, and are in no way, shape, or form paid advertising.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Philadelphia Photo Story and Copyright Law

At last, my daughter's Photo Story about visiting The Brandywine Battlefield, Valley Forge and historic Philadelphia!

Song credit: Fennell, F. & The Eastern Wind Ensemble. "Yankee Doodle - Field Music of the US Army ". God Bless America--The Ultimate Patriotic Album. 2002. MP3

This Photo Story took a little longer because I had to learn how to a) download a song from iTunes, b) burn that song to a disc, and c) rip it from my disc to save to my computer. Why? Because even though I purchased the song, iTunes uses Digital Rights Management technology to impose limits on the use of digital content. This prevents the user from playing an iTune on a non-Apple player. It also prevents the user from copying the song directly to Windows Media Player. Fortunately, there is a way to do it. Then, its an easy matter to upload the music from the computer to Photo Story 3.

Copyright Law and Fair Use
Is all of this legal? Ethical? Well, the whole point of copyright protection is to protect the intellectual and creative property rights of an author, composer, artist, or creator. According to, copyright is "the legal right granted to an author, a composer, a playwright, a publisher, or a distributor to exclusive publication, production, sale, or distribution of a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work". So, technically, even though I purchased this piece of music and provided attribution (a citation), I may be violating copyright law by distributing it on the Internet as a part of my daughter's Photo Story.

But what if I'm using the copyrighted material for education purposes? This is where things get a little tricky. Many educators believe that they can use copyrighted materials under the Fair Use doctrine as long as that use is restricted to instruction. This is not quite true. There are four factors one must consider when determining Fair Use:

1. the purpose or character of the use (i.e., is it for non-profit educational use?),
2. the nature of the copyrighted work (i.e., was it published, out of print, or factual?),
3. how much of the original work was used, and
4. the potential impact on the market for the original work.

In this case, the answers are:

1. the purpose of the use is educational (both for my daughter learning how to use the technology and in this blog which is written for educational purposes),
2. the nature of the work is a creative, published work; however, the song "Yankee Doodle" could be argued to be in the public domain,
3. The entire work was used (twice; typically, the 10% rule should be followed: only 10% or less of the cited work should be used), and
4. the potential impact on the market for the song is negligible.

Based on this analysis, the use of "Yankee Doodle" in this case would most likely be considered legal, but you never know.

Home schoolers using music or other creative works for the purpose of educating their own children probably do not need to worry about copyright law; however, Education World has a wonderful series of articles explaining copyright law and Fair Use.