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Friday Question: Where's my bill of rights?

Senior year of college, I took Comm Law 100. Not because I had any fanciful notions about delivering Law & Order-style closing arguments while wearing a really sharp lady suit dancing in my head – I just needed to fill some credits and thought it might be interesting. To this day, all I remember are the name of a few cases and the distinct memory of my father telling me never to become a lawyer.

I wish I’d paid more attention in class, though, because the question of content rights has been swirling around my little menswear world the past couple days, and it would be nice to be a little better informed.

The gist of it is this:

StyleSeek, the new men’s style curation and discovery site, launched at the beginning of this week. I talked about it on Style Girlfriend a few days ago, as did a few other outlets (a little-known pub called GQ among them).

It came to my attention after the launch that some menswear bloggers (I don’t know how many – could be a handful, could be a whole bunch) weren’t contacted about their work being featured on StyleSeek. No one asked if their articles could appear on the site, or if they wanted to be affiliated with the site at all.

As for me, I was asked to be a part of the endeavor by Ryan Plett, the creative director of StyleSeek. We had a lovely brunch a few weeks back where he told me all about the site and asked me to be one of its “influencers.” Send in a picture, a bio, and fill out my styleDNA. Easy enough. I said yes.

So I knew. I knew content from Style Girlfriend would be pulled in and aggregated to users of the site. At the time, I didn’t question the legality, morality, or the fairness of my words being repurposed on another website, all for free. At all.

To be honest, I didn’t think much about any of it. I was given a log-in and played with the site a little bit pre-launch but figured things would change, as they always do once a site goes live and users are able to kick the tires a little. Like when URL shortener bit.ly debuted a new site a couple months ago; there were a few glaring user experience issues, all of which were fixed within two days. I’d wait for the site to be up, I figured, before paying the whole thing too much mind.

Then the site went live and a firestorm erupted. A few of my most eloquent menswear blogger friends took to Twitter and their respective blogs to say, hey, our content is up on this site called StyleSeek. We’ve never heard of it and we don’t want the words we’ve written used on some other site without getting paid for it. That is stealing.

You can read more here and here.

Then, since I had written about the site earlier in the week with only good, non-lawyer-y things to say about it, I had people asking me, “Megan, did you know about this? Did you know your content was on this site? Aren’t you mad?” The answer was yes, yes, and well, no, not really‚Ķbut maybe I should be??

I started writing Style Girlfriend not as a way to make a living but as a means to getting to where I could be making a living from writing. To increase my exposure. To communicate with an audience who I thought wasn’t being addressed enough. To engage a reader who I wanted to entertain and educate. I’ve done that, hopefully well, in the past year and change. Now, SG takes up more of my time, and there are little ads on the sides that make me a little money, but I’ve stayed frozen in the mindset of “Must get exposure. Get paid in exposure.”

Would I like some of this $1M of funding that StyleSeek has to kick around? Sure. Yes. Of course. Did I settle for the hope that my mug and my words living on their site would increase traffic to my own site, indirectly resulting in a bump – however paltry – in ad revenue and potentially more significant paid content opportunities? Yes. Because as I said above, the nagging voice in my head still tells me I should just feel lucky to be asked to the party. (I also think I struggle under a heavily-outdated “female uncomfortable discussing money” framework which I’d rather keep out of the conversation altogether but seems worth at least mentioning here).

I wish I could be more of a drum beater for the rights of content creators, but 1) the aforementioned intro-level law course under my belt does not embolden me to speak on these matters, and 2) I knew what I was getting into so it would be insincere to express outrage now. And I have gotten some new readers from all this (Hello, by the way! Welcome! Go visit this post; fellas seem to like it). So I got what I was promised by Ryan at brunch so many moons ago; it’s just now I realize what I was promised wasn’t what I should have settled for.

Yesterday, Ryan announced that StyleSeek would begin featuring preview-only text for blog posts on the site, and link out to those bloggers’ sites. That’s certainly a step in the right direction. Because ideally, I want people to read my content on my site, bouncing around through my archives for a few hours, and finding me so generally delightful that they feel compelled to PayPal me a million dollars on the spot.

For now, I’ll stay on StyleSeek. I like that SG is exposed to new readers. To brands who might spot me and say, “Hey, we want to work with that pretty lady” (why brands talk like 1920s reporters in my head I’m not sure). I love writing words. I also love paying my rent each month. There has to be a way to be a creative type and a business person who expects – and receives – adequate for their work. Clearly I just haven’t figured out how to properly reconcile the two yet.

So for my Friday question, I’m crowdsourcing my reaction:

Should I be upset? Should I pull my content from StyleSeek? Should I have asked for compensation up front? I’d love to hear what you have to say on the question of content creation and compensation on the internet. Maybe you think we’re still in the wild west phase of the web, and I should just be happy they attributed my words to me at all?

And heck, while we’re at it, who would you like to see me work with? Blogger collaborations? Brands? I want to maintain the integrity of this site by only partnering with people and companies I believe in and think you guys would like, but I also want to keep my lights on and my stove running, and it would be awesome if the time I spent on SG contributed more towards the foundation of ol’ Maslow’s pyramid. Who could I align myself with (on sponsored posts, say, or giveaways) that you’d be interested to hear more about?

Let’s help keep style girlfriend going, the right way. And as always, thanks for your support. It means the world to me.