New Law States Bloggers Must Disclose If They Are Paid For Reviews

There is no doubt that we have some pretty strange and useless laws in our society… however… every once in a while a really good one gets put into place that serves the public interest. This new law, in my opinion, is one of them.

Basically, the new law says that bloggers have to reveal if they are paid or receive gifts for reviews. The New York Times says this:

The Federal Trade Commission will require bloggers to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products. It is the first time since 1980 that the commission has revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials, and the first time the rules have covered bloggers.

But the commission stopped short Monday of specifying how bloggers must disclose any conflicts of interest.

The FTC said its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. Penalties include up to $11,000 in fines per violation.

This is long overdue in my opinion.

A similar issue came up a little while ago when Slashfilm, a very good site run by our friend Peter, put up a post that was “sponsored” by a studio. This created a bit of a uproar calling the credibility of the site into question. While I myself don’t agree with “sponsored” posts, I thought calling Slashfilms credibility into question was a bit silly since they openly and CLEARLY stated themselves that the post was indeed sponsored. How can you accuse someone of being sneaky when they fully and openly tell you exactly what they’re doing? Anyway…

I’ve always had a policy here at TMB to give a disclaimer whenever writing about a movie that someone I know or have worked with is involved. It’s just good practice to be a bit transparent on those issues so the reader can decide if they should take things with a grain of salt or not.

Regardless, I think this new “law” is a good idea. What do you think?

29 thoughts on “New Law States Bloggers Must Disclose If They Are Paid For Reviews

  1. From GIZMODO(http://gizmodo.com/5374978/remainders-+-things-we-didnt-post/gallery/):

    “As a career journalist who has spent the last 2.5 years working for a “blog” that’s also a major media outlet, I was surprised by the FTC’s request that “bloggers” disclose gifts or payment for reviews. Obviously Giz staffers don’t accept gifts or payment for reviews—or, mind you, any kind of airfare or hotel fees paid for by a company—but the FTC’s ruling is so naive it’s not funny. Yes, these things should be monitored but, while the internet certainly plays a role, the problem isn’t specifically a bloggy one.

    Take TV: There have been plenty of reported cases of open bribery, and every time a product appears on a show, you should consider the likelihood of payola. In print publications, the bribes simply take a different form: Many magazines—both trade and mainstream—hire contributors and even staffers who happily get shuttled around the world on corporate dimes (used to be first class, now it’s business class, poor babies), getting put up in nice hotels for nothing, collecting sweet juicy frequent flier miles while they’re at it. This is standard marketing procedure for many beloved companies, and common in all major review-intensive industries. (*cough* auto industry *cough*) I have been gently castigated by “peers” on several occasions for refusing trips to Asia and Europe, because (obviously) it made the people accepting the trips feel self-conscious.

    I love a call for ethics as much as the next reasonably ethical SOB, but man, this is a can of worms that can’t possibly open and close solely on bloggers (and the related Facebookers and Tweeters), however the hell the FTC attempts to define them.”

    -Your thoughts John?

  2. I realize the article says that this is a law for bloggers, and that this is a movie web site. But is this a more general law where it pertains to anyone reviewing anything in any medium or is it just strictly for bloggers reviewing movies on the internet? It probably wouldn’t affect other products or forms of media as much as it affects movies, but it would have some affect. For example, video game sales are VERY dependent on ratings, but albums not so much (partly because not many people buy them anymore). Also, I’m assuming this is an American law because this is an American website (.com), but I hope this is adopted in Canada as well (I’m Canadian).

  3. I really notice how objective you are when reviewing films by Nevaldine and Taylor, who I know you’re pals with. By reading your review, you still point out what you see are the flaws in the films. Thats what I like about this site; Your opinions are your opinions and you aren’t swayed by personal friendships or even public opinion. Hell, I bet you’d even be able to write an objective review of your own film. Keep up the good work!

  4. I guess there’s still no way of stopping this happening in reverse, where a website trashes a movie purely because the studio wouldn’t give them a free advance screening, which is just as unprofessional IMO, and I’ve noticed happening a lot lately.

    I think it’s a good step in the right direction. Obviously the law won’t be able to catch and enforce EVERY time it’s broken, however for larger sites it will definitely be enforced. And you can expect some harsh penalties for the first few offenders to be caught, just to prove they’re serious about this law, to send a message.

    It’s worth noting this doesn’t just apply to movie sites either, this goes for all sorts of blogs. That’s good news.

    I don’t see this as an issue likely to impede free speech, or a form of censorship. It’s actually encouraging free speech on the internet, rather than paid advertisements disguised as opinion. I can only see this as being a good thing for readers, who can get a better idea of who they can trust online.

  5. The film review site I generally contribute to (Choking On Popcorn) and the site I was at previously (the defunct Projector Booth) had such a disclaimer that the reviewers are not professional film reviewers. Professionals get paid.

    Wait a minute. Should I repeat that? I will.

    Professionals get paid.

    The “law” is hence a good thing, because while some reviewers on the varied film blogs might have some impact (such as the previously mentioned AICN) such a disclaimer posted somewhere on a site Will not only ‘remind’ some readers that some (or all) contributors are not professional movie critics…but it will also set aside a difference of the film critics that write for, say, Entertainment Weekly or some other magazine or newspaper (that has gone web) and those “reviewers” like many we know.

    It’s not that we should “dismiss” an opinion, review or article regarding a film or series of films. I’d be more than willing to be paid to join a magazine or paper…I could use the cash. So could you. But let’s face the music: a paid professional carries more clout.

    I know. Breaks my heart too.

    1. If they’re paid by a publisher, it’s one thing. If you’re paid directly by the person who’s product you’re reviewing, that’s another story. You’re no longer a professional “journalist”, you’re then a professional “PR person”.

      This new law applies to both though, regardless of whether you make an income from your blog, or how great that income is, you will still have to disclose whether you’re being paid to write a good review.

    1. Maybe it sounds dumb, maybe it is dumb.

      But I don’t see a downside to it, and I could kind of see an upside (see below). In essence, what can it really hurt?

      All it does is ask for clarity.

  6. I like this idea a lot. My only concern is, how many more laws will be enforced in the future? And will the Internet get to the point where it’s controlled by the law too much, where that freedom of speech is effected? I could be totally wrong to have that concern, but it’s something that is on my mind.

    1. That’s a very good question. I have to ask it myself. Let’s say you’re blogging for a movie related site and write a review for “Movie X” and you don’t put in a disclaimer/the site doesn’t put in a disclaimer that you and/or others are doing it for free.

      And we break that law, we are in violation of that law yadda yadda. I’m not suggesting you or I do that intentionally, of course, but let’s just say that’s the case. (For those that are curious, the site I contribute to had the disclaimer on one of the site’s pages, and one of my past haunts also had such a statement long before this day)

      But let’s say you break this law.
      How can it be enforced? Shut the site/server down?
      That’s the only thing I can think of.

      After all, we are not stealing, killing, raping or pillaging. Correct?
      Least I hope not.

      1. Like the article said, it will be enforced with fines. So if the person repeatedly broke the law, they would be continually fined. Sooner or later, you’d imagine they’d get sick of the fines and start obeying the law or stop blogging.

  7. I think it’s definately a step in the right direction, some bloggers out there need to realize that what they write can effect a good number of what certain people think (that can be either a good or bad thing, depending on who’s weilding the power). I think it should be taken as seriously as any other profession. Taken seriously by both their audience and the bloggers themselves. It’s very hard to have one without the other. Some blogs act amazingly unprofessional, as if to say “What? I’m not a reporter, or anything. My thoughts don’t need to be complete, I don’t need grammer, my reviews don’t need to be credible, I don’t need to practice anything even remotely resembling intellect”. No your are not a reporter, you’re a blogger, now act like that’s a real job and take pride in your work. (of course there are many of those proud bloggers we all respect)

  8. It’s a prelude to taking any swag bloggers might get. They’re cataloging which publishers send what to who, then, in a few years, they’ll want a cut. They’ll say it counts as under-the-table payment.

    They’re wising up to the fact that, for some people, blogging is starting to become an actual job, with actual income.

    Still, don’t know what they’re getting all fussed up about right now…

  9. It probably makes sense though enforcing this law would seem to be pretty tough.

    The above post was sponsored by the National Frozen Foods Association.

  10. I think it’s a big step forward. Studio’s count on having influential sites in their pockets to help pump weekend one dollars.

    Hopefully, as time goes by, those that are frequently misled by reviews / previews sponsored by studios will move along to something new and, perhaps, the din of pure shit hollywood pushes on us might change.

    Or maybe not. What do I know?

    1. This has nothing to do with them “caring” about blogging. It has to do with where people go to get info on certain things and whether or not that info is creditable or being “influenced”.

    2. Big blogs are opinion leaders. Some users simply believe the opinion of the blogger if he says “go watch this movie, best movie of the year so far”, even if the movie is a piece of shit (to make a movie related example). If a blog takes money to push a movie with a “fake” opinion it is surreptitious advertising and unfair competition.

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