You might remember my post from a few weeks back aboutHerRoom.com’s bra shape quiz. I was offended and bothered by several features of the quiz—the lack of diversity of skin color in their illustrations; the use of loaded language to discuss body features that could be discussed neutrally; and their recommendations for my shape, which I felt were misleading and inaccurate based on my own knowledge and experience.
I recently received an email from a representative of HerRoom requesting that I take down the images from their site as my use of them was a violation of their copyright. Not being sure of who was in the right, and not wanting to put myself or my blog at risk, I quickly complied, removing the images and sending an email of apology to the representative.
However, I then took the time to become more familiar with the laws surrounding copyright infringement. My understanding now is that my use of their images was not an infringement of their copyright, as criticism falls under Fair Use.
However, I am a college student and I do not have time to be sued by online retailers, and so I find it prudent to choose my battles and attempt to create my own images that will get my point across without putting myself at risk. I also, and perhaps this may not be apparent, honestly do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I do not enjoy doing so. Although I stand by every word in my original post, I don’t take pleasure in spreading hatred, nor was that the original point of my post. That is why I chose to be polite in my response to the representative, even though it is my opinion that she was not as polite as she could have been in her original communication with me. I am torn on whether or not it would be appropriate to reproduce the email I received here. Although I don’t believe I could be legally attacked for publishing her words, I do think that it would mean crossing my own ethical boundaries because the message was sent to me privately. Suffice it to say that the email criticized my blog for taking a harsh and negative tone in general, a view which I feel may have been formed more from my (somewhat ill-advised) blog title rather than the actual content. The representative also seemed to believe that I was struggling to find bras that fit me, which is not the case.
I respect the right of HerRoom to defend their work, and therefore I will respect their request that I not use their images. I also believe that the company meant the quiz to be helpful. However, I want to also mention that I still find a couple of the implications of our communication upsetting.
One is the fact that the representative did not respond to my comment in my original blog post that all the many images in their quiz are of white women. I would have expected that once this fact had been drawn to her attention, they would alter those images to reflect more diversity. To me, that seems the only reasonable response. I don’t like to think that the whitewashing was purposeful, and I can’t image that Herroom would want us to think that it was. I believe this is something that could use work.
Second, I find myself wondering if HerRoom, or any other site for that matter, would never have cared about my use of their images if I had posted a glowing review of their content. I accept that it was legally ambiguous and ill-advised to use the images without their permission, even if it turns out that I am correct that it fell under Fair Use. In fact, I was unsure about using the images at the time. But, if I am right that they would not have asked me to take the images down if my post had promoted their site, then that DOES amount to the suppression of negative feedback. I find that morally wrong. I am not directly or specifically accusing HerRoom of this, as I have no proof that this is the case. However, I would like to examine these ideas further.
There seems to be a growing sense among companies that bloggers exist to provide free advertisement for them. I have witnessed repeated incidents of outrage from companies when they feel they are being unfairly criticized and having their sales damaged by bloggers expressing their opinions. On the other hand, these same companies often publish links on their social media pages to positive reviews. So if they believe that the positive reviews by bloggers are credible, why should they shame and attack the same bloggers when they speak a truth that is simply less palatable to these companies? I view blogging as an offshoot of the press, and I believe that the press should be neutral. I see no legal or ethical reason why bloggers should not feel free to share their opinions and honest experiences with their readers. Using others’ images is of questionable morality, and I will not make that mistake again. But even beyond this, receiving an email with a threatening tone from a company I have negatively reviewed, even if I am legally in the right, makes me hesitant to do such a post again. But it would be wrong not to continue to do negative or critical reviews where I find they are warranted. Blogs and reviews exist for this very reason—they are not driven by the companies’ own advertising and marketing. In the end I do not care if sales of a product increase or decrease because of what I write. Rather, I believe that companies will succeed by producing products (and a public image) that are to the liking of their customers, not by suppressing any negative feedback. Good press will naturally follow good products and services. It does not need to be any more complicated than that.