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FTC Threatens Fines for Bloggers

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It was called to my attention that there was an interesting tidbit featured on NPR, summarizing how the FTC may impose fines (up to $11,000 per post) for bloggers who receive freebies and post positive reviews. Bloggers across the nation are reeling from the shockwave of this news.

Critics have been receiving freebies for decades. How are they supposed to review a book that has not yet hit the bookstore shelves if they don't receive an advance copy and actually read it? The same holds true for games, movies, toys, CDs, and other products. If we are to review it, we should have a copy in our hands and actually make use of it first, so that we are educated about the things that we are critiquing. Publicists send out review copies to writers (be they journalists, bloggers, or librarians) in the hopes that they will do a little free advertising and help promote the product. However, reviewers are under no obligation to post a positive review, and many pride themselves on pointing out faults or areas for improvement. Though some reviews are positive, that is certainly not a requirement.  In my opinion, blog posts should be protected as basic rights — freedom of speech and freedom of press.

According to American Public Media, it is my understanding that, as a freelance journalist, I am not bound by these same guidelines. If I write a review for a magazine or newspaper, even if I am paid for it, I am under no such obligation to insert a disclaimer. Furthermore, as journalist Scott Jagow points out in the American Public Media article, politicians are under no requirements to report freebies and payouts from lobbyists that may actually affect votes and legislation.

Just to set the record straight, I shall insert the following disclaimer:

"Almost everything I review was sent to me free of charge, explicitly for the purposes of review. I do not always post positive reviews. I post my honest opinion of the product. Readers should be aware that I am reviewing free products that I was sent for the purposes of critique. Furthermore, publicists who send me books, toys, games, flight lessons, etc. for review should be warned that my critiques are just that — a critical opinion (sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and sometimes a little of both)."

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About Lisa Damian

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    I hope the FTC does not manage to shut down sites like this. But the bottom line is that sites like these fo provide an independent take on the news, a take not found in newspapers.

    Additionally, bloggers provide independent insights. If access to the internet becomes restricted, as some fear, that too will go – and the fascist control of the media will begin in earnest.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    One of the pitfalls of newbie bloggers is to write positive reviews in order to suck up to the product itself. It even happens here on BC.

    I don’t think this will threaten or change the pace of BC at all, but it should open a few reviewers’ eyes of who exactly they’re writing for.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “Critics have been receiving freebies for decades. How are they supposed to review a book that has not yet hit the bookstore shelves if they don’t receive an advance copy and actually read it? The same holds true for games, movies, toys, CDs, and other products. If we are to review it, we should have a copy in our hands and actually make use of it first, so that we are educated about the things that we are critiquing.”

    You’re perfectly right about that, Lisa. This has been a standard practice in the newspaper industry, and there had never been any stink about it, not to the best of my knowledge. So I think this might be a wedge by the FCC to try to regulate internet traffic.

    Good and timely article.

  • http://educanopy.com/blog Dr. Laraine

    While these rules appear to be full of ambiguity and unanswered questions, as an attempt to diminish unethical “reviews” and downright fraud, they may lead to something helpful to the whole public. Here’s hoping the abstruse will be clarified, and the ethical bloggers will be solvent and multiply.

  • http://InfiniteRegress.tv Paul Levinson

    Here’s my take on this issue.

  • Arch Conservative

    Welcome to Amerika.

    Brought to you by Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.

    At least the trains will continue to run on time.

  • Jordan Richardson

    So I think this might be a wedge by the FCC to try to regulate internet traffic.

    Uh, no.

  • http://DamianDaily.wordpress.com Lisa Damian

    I think that we should distinguish the difference between receiving review copies (i.e. “freebies”) and receiving money to advertise under the guise of a critique. I will be the first to agree that the latter is unethical. Reviews should consist of the fair and impartial opinion of the reviewer (whether a newspaper journalist, blogger, or radio host). The reviewer should write a positive or negative review, based on his or her honest assessment of the product.

    I fully agree that if someone were receiving advertising funds to promote a product and wrote an article that was passed off as a “review,” that advertising relationship should be disclosed. I, for one, have never been paid by a book publisher, toy manufacturer, game producer, etc. to write a review, and I believe that the majority of bloggers and journalists out there do not receive such payouts. (At least I’ve never personally heard about it within my limited scope, at any rate.)

    Review copies, on the other hand, are quite common throughout the industry. Book publishers, for example, sometimes send out advance review copies (ARCs) anywhere from one to ten months before the books hit the bookstore shelves. This is the reason that we see so many reviews posted before the book is actually available for purchase. If you see a review for a product that is not yet available for sale in your local store, you can assume that the writer received a free advance review copy.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Very interesting article Lisa as are the comments.

    This is a very hard call … I can see both sides of the issue as many others do.

    But I totally agree that providing review copies of books, DVDs, CDs, etc. is an industry standard and I would think that those providing the materials understand that it’s a crap shoot as to whether they will get a positive or negative review on what they are offering. I am new at all this so it’s great to hear other writers opinions. I currently have several positive reviews out there, but I have a negative review in queue right now. Hey, it happens.

  • Dave Bird

    I can see the issue here and i kind of agree that a conflict of interest may exist.

    I do however feel that the FTC are going about this in their usual cloudy and slightly confusing manner!