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October 5, 2009

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

— Posted by John Campea

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?

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  • http://rararyan.typepad.com Ryan

    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?

  • http://theincrediblesuit.blogspot.com/ The Incredible Suit

    I just want someone to read my blog, never mind get paid for it!

  • Kyle

    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).

  • http://stephenmcsweneey.blogspot.com Stephen McSweeney

    I think this law is a good one, there are far to many blogs out there that are clearly biased towards the film. Which isn’t fair on the readers!

  • Brian

    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!

  • War-Journalist

    Here, here!

  • Rafael

    He reviewed it for a paycheck

  • Shane Hero

    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.

  • http://chokingonpopcorn.com/popcorn/ Darren J Seeley

    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.

    • Shane Hero

      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.

  • http://entertainmenttodayandbeyond.com entertainmenttodayandbeyond

    Many of the bigger sites don’t review many movies (especially the big studio popcorn films) because they probably don’t want to get on the wrong side of the studio. Thats obvious.

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