Blog post for GroupHigh by Grant Crowell, Submitted October 2016

Being a paid contributor to a company blogsite can come with some risks. As I’ve experienced in over 20 years of being a paid contributor to digital publications, protecting your reputation as an influencer requires some diligence on making sure what’s being published of yours isn’t being misappropriated in any way.

I was reminded of this sober fact very recently, when I discovered that all of my original articles on a blogsite owned by video commerce solutions provider – where I was hired as a freelance writer for a couple years – had deleted my authorship and listed their own Marketing Manager under every individual bio page!

I alerted an executive with the company of the misappropriated author credit, who emailed her boss that they had been “caught” and that they better change it back. However, the boss had emailed me back and dismissed it as just an “administrative error.” He had overridden her suggestion and instead informed me that they would just have all of my articles deleted; and only if I first supplied with a complete list of all posts that I had authored for them!

Now I might not have even given much thought to rechecking my articles if I wasn’t already putting myself back out in the job market; but I had always had them under suspicion for past unprofessional issues. This included their rewriting some of my submitted articles to make it appear as if I was endorsing their products. (When I had originally caught that and insisted on the removal of these false endorsements, my contract with them was discontinued immediately after.)

Basically, the company was hoping to get away with capitalizing on my influencer status to get client leads without my knowing how they were misappropriating my influence!

My sour experience made me think of how I can help others with protecting their “influencer assets.” To help share what I’ve learned throughout my many years as a paid content marketer/influencer, I’ve enlisted the help of my long-time colleague, Daliah Saper — Intellectual Property, Media, and Business Attorney at Saper Law; and Adjunct Law Professor at Loyola and the University of Illinois.

Step 1: Vet the Company

  • Check out their reviews on Glassdoor. While the reviews are primarily around employee satisfaction, you may be able to get a glimpse as to their business ethics.
  • See how they display their other paid contributors. (If you’re not sure who they are, ask.) A reputable company will include a short author bio in every article, along with a backlink to the author list or their personal site. Their article results should also show up in the publisher site’s search engine when you type in their name. One site that does a decent job of this is Tubular Labs, which includes the author link at the top of every article, and which redirects to the bio at the bottom of every article.

Step 2: Include Your Terms

  • Make sure you understand whether you retain the copyright to your work or the company / website does. This will significantly impact how much control you have over downstream distribution. (You may also want to get permission to feature all published articles on your own website at an agreed later date.)
  • If attribution is important to you, put it in your contract. Remember, if they own the copyright you are not entitled to attribution and in fact you are NOT considered the author for copyright purposes.
  • If you are being asked to promote a product / service, make it clear what your additional rates will be; and that they will prominently disclose any material connections per FTC guidelines.

Step 3: Monitor and Mandate

Any contract you have with a publisher/advertiser will require some occasional monitoring on your part to make sure the terms are being followed with how your infleuncer assets are being handled; and if they aren’t, then be prepared to do some enforcement.

  • Keep a spreadsheet list of all your published content pieces by URL, title, and date published.
  • When you have a substantial body of work, take screenshots of all pages and save in an archive. (Be sure to also capture the full web browser so the URL can be seen.) For additional insurance, register a copyright to your body of work by completing an application with the S. Copyright Office. (A small fee of $30 for online works will apply, so it’s best to do this as a body of work rather than solo articles, unless perhaps your contribution is a one-time thing with high value to yourself.) Learn more about filing here.
  • Do an advanced search of your name associated with the site. (You can also drill down into a section where all your content is featured.)
  • If you’re dealing largely in text content and are concerned that it could be on duplicate sites without your permission, check out copyscapecom. Their free version lets you find copies of your work on web free of charge.
  • Have an active contact with the company you can readily reach out to. Provide a list of any and all transgressions by page URL, and the nature of the work breach.
  • If the company doesn’t take corrective action in a timely manner, file a DMCA takedown notice.

What are some other ways you can recommend protecting your “influencer assets?” Please share there here!