On blogging and context

I had a bit of a shock the other day. I clicked on a referring link to my blog and saw my own face staring back at me from a site I’d never seen before.

Some company called ‘The Style Up’ had used one of my photos on their website – a daily style inspiration service.

skirt

They seem to be yet another internet styling service funded by affiliate income. You sign up and get an email each night with an idea of what you could wear tomorrow. The gimmick is that it’s personalised to your local weather forecast.

I’m not averse to this kind of thing. I love taking frivolous fashion quizzes online and finding out my ‘style personality’ or whatever.

Except. It doesn’t sit well with me that they’ve just taken an image from my blog without asking and then added affiliate links to ‘similar’ products. It’s notoriously difficult to make a business work solely on affiliate income, and I’m sure they’re earning less than pennies on these links, but they’re still trying to use my photo to make money for themselves.

affiliate links

I actually emailed them to ask them to remove the photo, which they promised to do (and haven’t – you can see it here). They also asked if I’d like to join their ‘exclusive blogger network’ which is another affiliate thing and isn’t of much use to me given that my blog is mostly about handmade clothing.

So I’m annoyed, but not upset. It’s interesting to read the comments from their users. When my photo is divorced from its personal context, people are a lot more unfiltered and honest. The outfit in question possibly would look better with a slimmer top, flat leopard-print pumps and one of those fashion-bloggers-favourite J Crew ‘bubble’ necklaces, as suggested by commenters (although you will pry my cardigan from my cold, dead, hands).

Changing context

I’ve been trying to analyse what annoys me about this incident.

Firstly, they’ve taken my photo from the original context and put it into a different arena to be judged as a styled image. I have never claimed to be a fashion guru, and if I wasn’t making the things I wear, I wouldn’t have started this blog. It did come out of an impulse to show off (as most blogging does), but to show off my sewing rather than my styling credentials. It’s a small difference but to me it feels significant.

Secondly, they’re using my handmade, one-of-a-kind bespoke skirt to shill mass-produced clothing. While I still buy shop-bought clothing I am becoming more and more aware of the problems with textile manufacturing. So this rubs me up the wrong way.

As does the fact that they didn’t ask if they could use my photo first.

Lastly, the online sewing community is very supportive and small. I’m sure there are people reading this blog who think I look ridiculous and that my outfits are terrible, but they keep it to themselves. So this feels a bit like cold air blowing in. A reminder of the fact that anything you put on the internet is fair game.

I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

Edited 5th August – Kendall from The StyleUp has emailed me to apologise again for not removing the picture and that it was a result of human error – they’re going to take the page down today.

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60 thoughts on “On blogging and context

  1. ZoSews August 6, 2013 / 11:20 AM

    Great post. And you’re right, we’re showing off our sewing not our styling! Excellent example of how important context is.

  2. Andrea B August 6, 2013 / 3:19 AM

    I can’t see the original web page now, so how did they link to your blog? Did they credit you at all and say anything about your sewing, or just throw up your photo and sneak in a link somewhere without mention of who you are? Either way, I agree it’s unsettling.

    Once I visited a referring URL to my blog and saw my photo posted on some Polish mommy forum. The woman was pretending my photo was her, and asking for advice on how to cut and color her hair. Talk about out of context! Everyone was commenting about how my hair needed to be brightened, shaped and cleaned up. Someone happened to recognize me, and linked back to my blog. Everyone teamed up against the poster, like “… Why are you pretending to be that American sewing blogger?!” Needless to say, that was a weird experience. Luckily I haven’t had problems with people trying to profit off my blog photos though. I don’t mind other bloggers using my photos as long as they keep it in context and link back to me (and don’t give me unsolicited hair advice)!

    • yesilikethat August 7, 2013 / 8:53 AM

      That is deeply, unsettlingly weird. I wonder how she settled on your picture in the first place? And for the record, I think your hair is awesome!

      They linked back to my blog with a small title at the bottom of the photo, but no mention of sewing…

  3. Miss Piggy August 5, 2013 / 10:48 PM

    Many of my recipe-developing food blogger colleagues have a similar problem. Their photos are just “lifted” for use on other websites…sometimes the whole blog post, recipe & all is stolen. I think it’s pretty unfair and the companies doing this just don’t want to pay for “professional photos/content” – they’d rather steal it. Some of my colleagues get so upset & bent out of shape — understandably but I think it’s a losing battle though…it’ll never end which is a shame.

    BTW – I think your outfit looks wonderful, your skirt is divine and has actually inspired me to try and make a circle skirt. Wish me luck.

    • yesilikethat August 7, 2013 / 8:52 AM

      That must be very annoying, especially if you take beautiful food photos and someone just steals them! Food photography is hard.

      Good luck with your circle skirt! Have you seen the Casey’s Elegant Musings sew-along and instructions?

  4. kokorimbaud August 5, 2013 / 10:05 PM

    I totally understand you’re annoyed – and think rightly so. Also, as of now (which is indeed only 11pm on the 5th in the UK), your photo is still up 😦
    The saddest thing in this, for me, is that this would have been a great opportunity to promote something a bit more meaningful than affiliate links. Any “look, this is how the cool cats do it, and if you’re not inclined towards craftiness, here’s how you can achieve a similar look” thing doesn’t have to be bad. It’s just badly done 😦

    • yesilikethat August 7, 2013 / 8:52 AM

      That’s true! Just a nod towards the sewing thing would have made it seem friendlier.

  5. busyellebee August 5, 2013 / 9:02 PM

    As your picture is still up, after the so called apology, I have an idea. Can you temporarily change the link page for your lovely skirt to this page, so that everyone can inform readers of this sham site exactly what we think of them?

    • yesilikethat August 7, 2013 / 8:51 AM

      Thanks for this suggestion Elle, luckily they’ve taken it down now. x

  6. sewbusylizzy August 5, 2013 / 8:45 PM

    I think you are more than justified to be mad.
    I find it challenging enough when my own friends who don’t sew read my blog as they are non-sewers and don’t really get what my blog is about – I can’t imagine having my photos taken out of context, placing in front of a different audience & held up for comment. That’s just hideous.

    • yesilikethat August 7, 2013 / 8:51 AM

      I’m the same, feel a bit embarrassed when one of my non-sewing friends finds my blog! I think they are usually baffled.

    • sewbusylizzy August 7, 2013 / 8:54 AM

      Oh I so hear that. I kinda squirm and try to explain this slightly crazy aspect of my personality – I’m finally getting to a point where I simply describe it as a different aspect to myself – and I blog because I don’t know anyone in ‘real life’ to share my obsessions with 🙂

  7. Chris August 5, 2013 / 8:11 PM

    Well now, it is 9pm and the photo is still online. An apology does not really mean much if it is shown to be just words, does it?
    Also I think using your picture in a context for which it clearly was not intended (i.e. style critique rather than sewing critique) is quite a mean thing to do anyway. Just to see people talking about “her style” on that website rather than abouth “your style” as on your own blog I found quite upsetting.

    • yesilikethat August 7, 2013 / 8:50 AM

      You’ve put your finger on why I found it odd, I think – I’m used to people talking directly to me here, rather than being discussed in the third person…

  8. prttynpnk August 5, 2013 / 5:00 PM

    This is just crap. To make money off of someone elses work and effort is just wrong, no apology is enough to make that cool or excusable. I appreciate that they thought you looked stylish and you do, but nope, no stealing, thank you.

    • yesilikethat August 7, 2013 / 8:46 AM

      Definitely, it’s the not asking that really got my back.

  9. Lynne August 5, 2013 / 4:33 PM

    What a cheek!! I’m offended for you. I hope they’ve taken it down by now, I refuse to click on their link to see – I don’t want to give them a traffic hit. Also, I still think that green skirt rocks. I think I left a comment on it when you posted it (if I didn’t, I meant to!), I’m still on the look out for the perfect green fabric to make myself something similar. 🙂

    • yesilikethat August 7, 2013 / 8:46 AM

      Thank you! As soon as I saw that green fabric I knew I had to make it! 🙂

  10. Heather Jenkinson (@heatherdesign) August 5, 2013 / 4:23 PM

    I like the stance you’ve taken and that you’ve posted it and, although many other people have said exactly what comes to mind – more kindly than I, the thing that inflames me, immediately, are some of the comments on their page! I mean, really, the things people think, type and post… (I weep dry tears for their general misguided-ness.)

    They may steal your images but they’ll never emulate your comedy; even in rather dire circumstances, you’re so funny… > “The outfit in question possibly would look better with a slimmer top, flat leopard-print pumps and one of those fashion-bloggers-favourite J Crew ‘bubble’ necklaces, as suggested by commenters (although you will pry my cardigan from my cold, dead, hands).” I chuckled. Out loud.

    I hope that ladyCEO, above, is squirming in her Californian Skorts…

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 4:47 PM

      Skorts! Genius. Thanks Heather, always glad to make you smile 🙂

  11. Debby August 5, 2013 / 3:47 PM

    Can you put a water mark on your photos with your name or blog on, which might prevent others using your photos. I am not techie so can’t advise.

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 4:47 PM

      Good idea, I might think about it if it happens a lot, too much work at the moment though (or should I say I am too lazy).

  12. Kelly August 5, 2013 / 3:03 PM

    Ugh, I think you are being remarkably calm and level-headed about this. I would be so mortified! I know once you put a photo out there on the Internet you can’t really control what happens to it (despite it being your property), but when you put it up for a specific, supportive audience and then see it stolen and used in a different environment… well, I’m sorry this happened to you!

  13. tillybuttons August 5, 2013 / 1:51 PM

    Urgh, sorry to hear this has happened to you. It feels weird having your photos used by someone else out of context. Particularly being at the receiving end of mean comments, I know how that feels – as much as you tell yourself not to care about some throwaway comment left by someone who clearly isn’t great at making friends, it’s still hurtful. But you know and we know that you are way more awesome because you don’t spend your time fretting about accessorising, you’re busy making gorgeous outfits with your own fair hands, so there.

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 3:34 PM

      Thank you – it does feel weird, but at least the comments weren’t too bad 🙂 It is the whole ‘out of context’ thing that really threw me.

  14. unlabelled clothes August 5, 2013 / 1:31 PM

    Even for self-portraits – an model release form is required for images that features a recognisable person, for commercial use. They say they like to hear from people and that their emails are “hand-crafted with love in sunny Mountain View, California”. I think you might want to hand-craft an email with equal love from rainy England, to ask them politely (again) to remove the copyrighted image san model release form immediately, as it is not legal. I feel annoyed for you.

    • charityshopchic August 5, 2013 / 3:23 PM

      Hahaha… I’m considering adding ‘handcrafted in miserable rainy London’ to all my emails from now on 😉

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 3:34 PM

      Me too, adds a lovely air of authenticity, don’t you think…. (particularly appropriate at the moment. ‘Very rainy London’ would be more like it).

  15. Jenny Clark August 5, 2013 / 1:16 PM

    I can’t believe they still haven’t taken it down! It’s extremely poor practice of them to just take pictures from another site and post them on their own, without asking. If they’ve done it with yours I’ve bet they’ve done it with a lot of others. And it means they might not stop at just the photos – they might start stealing the other content too. It’s an extremely bad example to set! At the end of the day, whether or not you have an actual disclaimer on your site, they should know the pictures are your copyright (certainly not theirs to do what they want with), and therefore subject to copyright restrictions. Plain and simple! Gah!

  16. Kendall (StyleUp CEO) August 5, 2013 / 1:09 PM

    Hi everyone! I run StyleUp and as I told Kathryn of “YesILikeThat” when she emailed, I am incredibly sorry. It’s unacceptable; you are completely right. I would be happy to hear all of your issues (kendall@thestyleup.com) and reply to each one just as I did with Kathryn. As an aside, no money was made on this image. We are an early-stage startup and our aim is to inspire busy women to have fun with fashion, so the last thing I would want is to convey anything negative. I understand that you are all very upset. I am very sorry & take full responsibility. I had deleted the image in our system, but I see now that the URL still exists. I will work on that promptly.

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 1:16 PM

      Hi Kendall – I appreciate you coming here and engaging so quickly. I was pleased that you responded to my initial email, but dismayed when I saw that you hadn’t taken down the webpage, otherwise I wouldn’t have put this post up.

      I work for a start-up myself so I understand it’s difficult to keep tabs on everything with very little staff – but next time would be great just to get an email asking if you could use the image. Thanks for responding though.

    • Jenny Clark August 5, 2013 / 1:18 PM

      It’s good that you’ve apologised Kendall, but surely you know enough about basic copyright law to know it should never have been done in the first place? If you, or any staff, don’t, then why not?!

    • busyellebee August 5, 2013 / 1:31 PM

      With all due respect Kendall, while I agree it was good that you apologised, it really should never have happened in the first place. You can’t take a photo off the web and use it for your own gain without permission. If nothing else, it’s basic good manners.

  17. Joanne August 5, 2013 / 12:53 PM

    Ugh. I feel violated on your behalf! It doesn’t help that I don’t particularly like style blogs anyway, but context IS important. Communtity is important, too–I teach middle school language arts, and I always ask permission before sharing a student’s work with the class…this strikes me as the equivalent of taking someone’s poem and projecting it at an all-school assembly without advance warning. I’d especially be bothered by my image being used to sell products I didn’t even endorse. Please keep us posted with the resolution!

  18. crab&bee August 5, 2013 / 12:41 PM

    Using your image (and not taking it down quickly!) was a slimy thing to do. Can you make a comment on the photo itself asking them to take it down? Maybe that would make StyleUp’s users more aware of where the images they use come from.

    • busyellebee August 5, 2013 / 12:44 PM

      I tried to make a comment, but it wouldnt let me. The whole thing is just ridiculous! Personally, I dont trust this website and would suggest boycotting it.

  19. busyellebee August 5, 2013 / 12:32 PM

    Outrageous! The time for being nice to these crooks is well and truly over. Demand that they take down your photo and other work immediately. You have been reasonable in your actions and they then had the cheek to ask you to join them. That’s the action of a cheat. Therefore if they don’t remove your work, sue them for IP theft, demand an account of profits and any other rights you are entitled to. Do not let them fob you off. They know they are in the wrong, hence why they offered you to join the club! You can not simply take someone’s work, pass it off as your own and then make money out of it! That is STEALING!!! I’m so angry for you … please don’t let them get away with it.

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 1:01 PM

      Thanks lady – if they’d taken the photo down I never would have posted about it at all. Obviously it’s not a massive issue for them but if a company you says they’re going to do something, they should do it.

    • busyellebee August 5, 2013 / 1:24 PM

      This is one of the many reasons why I don’t post pictures of myself on my website, but it’s unfair to good bloggers, to be denied the choice. Many experts suggest that if you want your blog to do well, you have to post pictures of yourself so readers can get a context of who you are. My thoughts on this – if they cant get a ‘feeling’ of the blogger via their words, a portrait is not going to help matters – if anything it can lead to a whole host of other issues – such as this.

      I’ve calmed down a bit LOL – but I am still so very annoyed that this happens – and I also think these thieving crooks (sorry but I call a spade a spade!) are taking advantage of your good, kind nature. It is not the point that they should have asked – these are not honest people. It’s the fact that they stole your photo for their own financial gain, and think that by adding a link to your site will cover them legally. Well it doesn’t. They are not linking to you as a favour to you, they are doing it in a lame attempt to cover their greedy selves.

      And trust me, they are not going to made a few pennies out of this venture, you would be surprised how much revenue these so called style sites make. Think on it – if they steal 100 photos, and make 5% from each resultant sale, that could easily see them profits in the $1,000s. Where’s your cut?

      Blogging shouldn’t be exclusively about profit, but stealing others work for self financial gain is wrong.

      OK – as someone else said, rant over!

  20. Alice August 5, 2013 / 12:32 PM

    The whole thing is deplorable. Not only are they using your image to make money, but they are then inviting people to comment on your outfit, but your post was about your skirt in the first place and, apart from that, it’s a bloody cheek that your lovely, unsuspecting self is put out to face the lions without so much as a “by your leave”!

    Unbelievable.

    As for the possibility that people give a more frank opinion in certain circumstances, in some cases that may be true but in mine I would never say I liked something if I didn’t, unless I was being asked for my honest opinion, otherwise I would just keep quiet. To say I liked something when I didn’t would compromise my integrity, but to come right out and criticise it without being invited to do so would be rude.

    For what it’s worth, I like the whole outfit:)

    • Alice August 5, 2013 / 12:36 PM

      Sorry, I should have made it clear that I meant “unless I was being asked my honest opinion by the person concerned”! Not by any old Tom, Dick or Harry.

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 1:00 PM

      I agree, and I like that about the sewing community, I wouldn’t comment negatively on an outfit unless they were asking for opinions (should I shorten this hemline or keep it long? etc etc).

  21. shivani August 5, 2013 / 12:08 PM

    I think it’s outrageous that they used your intellectual property without permission. I know the internet is pretty much a free-for-all, but it’s one thing to use an image for inspiration (eg, on an Pinterest board), but quite another to try to make some money – context is everything. Minor injustices make me cross… this has made me very cross.

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 12:59 PM

      That’s what makes me annoyed, if another blogger had used it to say they were making a similar skirt, or something along those lines, I wouldn’t mind at all. It’s the commercial aspect that got my goat.

  22. charityshopchic August 5, 2013 / 11:47 AM

    I hope they do the right thing and take it down. It’s not on for them to be taking your content without asking and making money from it. I don’t like the idea for their site at all, either.
    But yes, it does serve as a reminder that once your pictures are ‘out there’ on the internet, they’re out there… there isn’t really much you can do, if they had refused to take it down, what would your recourse be? Lawyer up?!
    Context means such a lot. It’s like with your picture that they stole – cute outfit on you, but would it be suitable for every single person in every country in the world? Well, probably not.
    I am so SICK of seeing my pictures used on other sites alongside snarky comments saying how ugly the clothes are – those are the BEFORE PICTURES, DICKHEADS. Context matters.
    And don’t get me started on the Russian site that lifts all my content, image by image, and posts it alongside google translation of my text. Unfortunately I don’t think I have any way of getting them to take it down as the site appears to be a forum without a moderator (and I don’t speak Russian).
    [rant over]

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 12:59 PM

      I know, there’s not much we can do. When you look at the terrifying stories of women being harassed over the internet and how difficult they find it to get images and information taken down, it makes you realise that one picture is pretty small in the scheme of things.

      That’s terrible about people using your pictures! Context does make such a difference. I had no idea that had happened to you. How did you find out? I’ve had a of lot Russian traffic from Livejournal before when they used a couple of my photos, it was a strange experience…

    • charityshopchic August 5, 2013 / 3:18 PM

      Same as you did – from clicking through to a referring page from analytics. I was furious.

      Here’s one example. There are many more.
      http://secondstreet.ru/blog/mujskie_kostyumy/plate-zhilet-mccartney-iz-papinogo-pidzhaka-diy.html

      I should’ve added that someone using ONE OR TWO of my pictures alongside a comment that says ‘this is cool’ (or similar) and then directing people to my blog is absolutely fine (in fact, encouraged), and that people who ask to use my content are of course fine as well.

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 3:36 PM

      God, that’s insane! They’ve stolen every one of your pictures! I don’t understand why people would do that. That must be infuriating.

  23. Marie August 5, 2013 / 11:37 AM

    Aaargh, no wonder you’re annoyed my dear! The most annoying thing for me (other than not asking permission) is the crucial point you make about context. Here, you’re ‘showing off’ your handmade beauties and not claiming to be a style expert – this is your style and you’re not asking for feedback on it either. Whereas on The Style Up, people are commenting on that sort of thing, which was never your intention for the outfit in the first place. I can totally understand how annoyed you are feeling, I’d be livid. And it’s terrible that they’ve not removed your image yet…I hope this maybe teaches them a lesson to ask first?!? Scarily, you may never have stumbled upon this ever…I wonder how many other sewing bloggers’ photos are pulled out of context and scrutinised like this!

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 12:56 PM

      I agree, in one way they did me a favour by actually linking back to my site – I’m sure we all have images floating around out there that we have no idea about… scary!

  24. bani August 5, 2013 / 11:31 AM

    They are using your photograph (your intellectual property) for their own gain. Not okay! Also they have a “shop THIS outfit” headline underneath, implying that it can be bought, which it can’t since you made it. Not okay either! But the first part if most definitely the most shady and they need to take it down. I’m sure there are many style bloggers who’d love to be a part of the site anyway, it seems like they had a good niche.

    I can see what you mean about being suddenly exposed to “the meanies” in a new way! I don’t sew myself (I merely dream of doing so and follow a bunch of blogs) and am so impressed by the community feeling among the sewing bloggers. They weren’t too rude though, it’s just not very nice, is it? :/ And you weren’t looking for their opinions either, StyleUp foisted them on you by nicking your work.

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 12:54 PM

      Thank you for your comments – really interesting. You’re right that people weren’t very rude, I think that’s why I wasn’t really upset – almost flattered in one way that they’d thought they could sell products from my picture!

      It is a shady way to do business, as I pointed out to them in my email…

      p.s. Hope you get to start sewing soon, it’s so fun! 🙂

    • bani August 5, 2013 / 1:56 PM

      Yes, I should have been clearer in saying that it’s not only shady, it’s illegal. But I see other people have pointed that out without mincing words! Thank you for wishing me sewing mojo, hopefully I’ll get the chance sometime … I’m woefully impractical and need Space, Time and Patience in no small degree to manage it! 😉

  25. theperfectnose August 5, 2013 / 11:27 AM

    Bunch of thieving d*ckheads. Here’s what I think. Well the part that’s safe for work anyway.. XD

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 12:53 PM

      Wow, thanks so much for having my back 🙂

  26. Helen August 5, 2013 / 11:23 AM

    Gotta say I agree with you. They took your work without permission and are using to make money, that in itself is wrong. But the fact they are using handmade clothes to sell mass produced stuff grates on me too.

  27. lizzylikescake August 5, 2013 / 11:09 AM

    That’s a crappy thing for them to do! Urgh! To take a photo out of context, use it to make money (even if only a little money) and then allow randoms to comment on it totally out of context! That’s not okay and has made me very cross!

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 12:52 PM

      I know, it’s very cheeky of them!

  28. The Amazing Taracat August 5, 2013 / 11:03 AM

    I’m not surprised you’re pissed off, the bloody cheek of it! I think the biggie for me would be not asking to use your photo. So you had no choice over what it was used for. The links to (possibly? probably?) mass produced unethically made clothes would also piss me off, as it goes against your personal views. Which anyone who reads you regularly would know. In fact it’s pissed me off now. i may just wander over there and comment….

    • yesilikethat August 5, 2013 / 12:37 PM

      That’s the biggest thing for me too. They haven’t used it in a completely terrible way, but they could have asked…

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