PopSugar allegedly stole “millions” of Instagram influencers’ photos for affiliate link profits

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Since the picturesque and pastoral days of cat fishing, the theft of intellectual property and the exploitation of benefits on the Internet has always been difficult to trace, and it is becoming increasingly difficult. Online scams are now part of life, not to mention the excellent foraging of podcasts. Maybe you've stolen some profile pictures stolen from Tinder, or maybe you follow a particular stolen Twitter account that just won a prize for the creation of memes. It feels as if it came with the territory. But from time to time, something that seems scandalous happens, even by our current lax standards of online property. I'm talking about PopSugar, the multimillion-dollar media company backed by venture capitalists that has allegedly reused Instagram photos of small-potato style bloggers for affiliate link content.
As first reported by The Fashion Law this week, PopSugar was accused of stealing personal photos from style bloggers and micro-influencers (those with less than 10,000 followers), using them to generate their own affiliate link fees. RewardStyle, a web-only guest tool that helps bloggers monetize their content through affiliate links, sent an email to their users on Tuesday from founder Amber Venz Box: "Last night, we realized that PopSugar.com not only reused the content of influencers without their consent, but further eliminated all rewardStyle commissionable links, and instead monetized through the affiliate links of ShopStyle. "
In Like To Know It, an application used by rewardStyle, a blogger can specifically monetize his Instagram account making Instagram screenshots affordable. All or almost all the photos taken by PopSugar seem to come from the bloggers' posts. Like To Know It.
It seems that PopSugar used the Like To Know It publications to create similar "affordable" pages for individual RewardStyle bloggers who use their original photos, but who are on affiliated PopSugar links in ShopStyle, a RewardStyle competitor previously owned by PopSugar. In his statement, Venz Box says that the RewardStyle legal team is in the middle of reviewing the problem.
"The fact that someone would take those photos, copy them, remove the affiliate links that were embedded in them, which would reward the people who took the photos and publish them on their own site, that is, copyright infringement. ", internet and copyright lawyer Brett Lewis tells The Verge. "It's probably an unfair commercial practice, it could be illegal interference and probably other things that I have not had the chance to think about yet."
Venz Box, through a spokesperson, refused to comment further.
Even 10 years ago, PopSugar probably could have got away with this. But the perception of the general public about influential people has changed over the years. The influencers are no longer fans of Instagram accounts, nor are they trying to take advantage of their online popularity in a Vogue column. Many are earning full-time income from their content, and the interruption of that income by a massive company is just another unfortunate danger of making a living online: it could be legally actionable.
The affordable PopSugar pages were first discovered this weekend by a fashion blogger who posted screenshots of his stolen photos in a private Facebook group for members of RewardStyle. From there, other bloggers began to realize that PopSugar had also used his photos. It is not clear how many bloggers were affected, but in his email, Venz Box says that "millions of pieces of original content" were stolen. PopSugar did not contact any of the bloggers about the use of their photos. It is unclear how long the tool was active, but ShopStyle was purchased from PopSugar by the Ebates online refunds site in February 2017.
In a statement yesterday, ShopStyle said that, as a result of the breach, it was in the process of finalizing a commercial agreement with PopSugar that both parties had signed after the acquisition of Ebates that had allowed PopSugar to continue collecting revenue with affiliate links. from ShopStyle. In exchange for creative content sales generator.

Image: Tom McGovern

PopSugar eliminated the affordable pages on Wednesday, and CEO Brian Sugar responded to the incident on Twitter by attributing it to an experiment that had been forgotten. He states that the tool was built during a hackathon, a common event in startups where designers and programmers, among others, work together to create new products, sometimes unusual, and left open to the public by accident. "We mistakenly leave these URLs open so as not to generate money or something harmful, but because of the lack of monitoring and misallocation of resources," he wrote.
"There is an interesting question about how [PopSugar] acquired all these photographs in the first place," says Lewis, the copyright attorney. "I'm surprised that there are probably terms of use that may be involved here, if RewardStyle has Terms of use that prohibit, I'm sure, someone copying their content, they would also have violated those Terms of Use."
The terms of the service I like to know prohibit "scraping the screen", scraping the database or any other practice or activity whose purpose is to obtain lists of users, portions of a database or other lists or information of the Services , in any way or in any amount not authorized by rewardStyle. "

Sugar says the company only got $ 2,695 in commissions from these links, although he did not provide evidence to confirm the statement. He also says that the company plans to pay the money in full to the "appropriate influencers who have earned it". None of the bloggers I talked to had heard anything about PopSugar payments, and Sugar told The Verge that he had nothing to say beyond what he had tweeted
Part of the reason why it is difficult to determine how much money PopSugar made, or how much money the bloggers lost, is because the affiliate link fees may vary according to the terms and rates, depending on who publishes it and where it goes. RewardStyle and ShopStyle are just a small part of a large network of affiliate programs, which allow bloggers to post links to brands or products and earn a commission, either by clicks or direct sales.
ShopStyle and RewardStyle are sub-affiliate networks, which means that they combine different affiliate link programs that already exist, rather than creating their own, and both are aimed at fashion and fashion bloggers. But the big difference is how they pay the money. RewardStyle is a cost-per-action (CPA) program, which means that bloggers only earn a commission if their links actually lead to a sale, while ShopStyle, the former PopSugar network, is a pay-per-click affiliate program ( PPC). Bloggers will receive a commission for each click, even if no sales are completed. The commission on RewardStyle links ranges from 4.9 to 30 percent of a sale, with an average payment of around 10 percent, according to a report by the finance publisher of the Rosevibe blog. ShopStyle does not have a maximum commission per click, but its minimum is only described as "above $ 0.00." (This probably means that the RewardStyle commissions will be higher, but they are more difficult to obtain).
Erin Rogosienski, a stylist and blogger who had about 30 of her photos reused by PopSugar, says she has just started working with RewardStyle a few months ago and earns "a couple of hundred dollars per month in commissions". "For me, it was more an addition to what I already do for my business," he says. "But I know that for many of these girls, it's their main source of income.
"My Instagram and my blogging is something that takes time, and a long time away from my children and my family, and that is the main reason why I do it," he continues. "And it's not fair for someone else to benefit from my hard work, even if it's not my full-time income."
Tomi Obebe, a style blogger with around 8,500 Instagram followers, says that PopSugar rephrased 174 of his photos, some of which date back to mid-2017. Tomi is a member of both RewardStyle and ShopStyle, but PopSugar links do not They were connected to your ShopStyle account. She says she usually sees 2,500 to 4,500 clicks per month on affiliate links.
Not only bloggers have been impacted by this; They are photographers, too. Chelsie Carr style blogger says that only two of her photos were taken by PopSugar, but they were still professional photos that she had paid for. "Both photographs were taken by my photographer with whom I am paying a contract, so having a HUGE site to take photos for which I paid money, and put them without my consent, was exasperating," he writes in an email to The Verge. "I understand that I publish my photos on the Internet, but that they take away my brand and represent me in a place that I do not choose to associate with feels like a violation of my business."
Tom McGovern is a professional photographer who often takes photos of his girlfriend, style blogger Alicia Tenise. McGovern says that PopSugar used 419 of Tenise's photos, some of which he had already licensed for other brands. "It's fun for PopSugar to do this when, just a month ago, they had an article on how to steal Instagram photos is wrong," he said in a phone call. "To build that whole system, and then apologize after the fact, I do not see how there is any way they would think that people would welcome it with open arms."
McGovern also says that, although Brian Sugar claims that the pages were never indexed in the Google search, you can still see evidence of the posts in the cached pages and in the Google search. Then, in the screenshots provided by McGovern to The Verge, you can see the copy that PopSugar used to describe Tenise's images: "AS YOU SEE IN INSTAGRAM, CHECK OUT MORE".

Image: Tom McGovern

McGovern plans to talk to lawyers next week; Other individual bloggers have also threatened legal action. Lewis thinks they might have a case. "If what he [PopSugar] did was copy these photos, and remove affiliate links from them, it seems they have broken the law," says Lewis. "I do not believe that [PopSugar] had any right to use any of those copyrighted photographs for your 'experiment'."
"A lot of people think that when you listen to 'Instagram' or 'blogger', they're a fair game," says McGovern. "If they had said, Hi, we're taking all these photos from the H & M catalog or the J. Crew catalog, that would have created an instant reaction."
But the reaction was pretty quick this time, too. Wherever the story goes from here, this is a significant moment in the universe of style blogs. The influencers are no longer just another part of the online economy of hustle and bustle, accumulating examples of free designers here and there. For many, it has become a race like any other, well, almost.


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