Thursday, May 27, 2010

Deciding (and Defending) Your Limits

I was going through my blog roll today and came across a very interesting post by The Book Vixen - 'Do You Own Your Reviews?' In it she addresses an issue that I personally had never thought too much about, the question of how do you protect the words that you use for a blog post? This concern doesn't limit itself just to book reviews; other types of product reviews, discussion posts, original work - it all has the possibility of being taken and used out of context if you're not careful.

TBV experienced this issue from a source that shocked me, because it was really hard to understand how could institute a policy that deliberately limits the rights of the people who choose to review through their site. TBV wrote a review for a title on Amazon and then through a Google Alert found the review had been picked up and pasted verbatim on another site. Plus, not only was the site using her review in its entirety, it was using her review with their own affiliate link, meaning that TBV's words were being used without her permission to make money for another party.

Now when you read this I think most people would go 'WTF? That's not fair!' and respond with a completely naturally request to the site to take down their review, with an additional email to Amazon to report the misuse of the review.

Here's where it gets really hinky.

Amazon already knew that third parties were taking the reviews from their website! Not only did they know, it is apparently written into the Terms of Use Agreement for the site that Amazon can release reviews to any affiliates it decides to and a user has no recourse to stop this. No recourse except to delete any and all reviews that they've done for Amazon - which is exactly what the representative instructed her to do if she wasn't comfortable with the agreement. I am appalled and dismayed at Amazon's stance on this issue. The words we reviewers use don't just come out of nowhere. They come from our hard work, effort, and commitment to helping people read the best books out there. When third parties are allowed to use our words all willy nilly without any attempt at obtaining permission it demeans the effort we've put in and is dishonest to the spirit of the review.

I'm not much of a purchaser from Amazon these days anyway, but I'm definitely reconsidering what I do with that company in the future. I've already deleted any book reviews I did in the past and I will not be contributing to them from this point forward. An author who responded to TBV's post did make the suggestion that you can rate the books on the site without actually reviewing them. This is probably what route I'll be taking, if and when I find myself feeling comfortable sharing my opinions with a company that apparently has no respect for its users.

I also went ahead and took TBV's suggestion to sign up for Google Alerts to help myself monitor where and how my words are being used. And since with the first alert I found my reviews had already been put up on sites without my knowledge, I highly recommend that you do the same.

To read The Book Vixen's article ('Do You Own Your Reviews?') in its entirety, please click here. The information in this post and links to her article have been used with TBV's permission.