This morning, as per usual, I started my morning by browsing Twitter to see, if there’s something interesting. Well, it turns out, I only didn’t find something interesting but very infuriating and I think you all, as bloggers have interest in this story.
Few years ago, a woman started a blog on blogspot.com called Paskat Kirppislöydöt, which means Shitty Thrift Store Finds. It became very successful and even has over 26 000 FB-likes. Naturally, this kind of success, which is huge in Finland, attracted some blog-portals. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have than kind traffic. It’s moneys! But this is what happened. It’s a good warning story for every blogger out there, who wants to become professional. I’m translating (again, poorly) from the original blog post:
My last blog post was almost a month ago and in general, blogging has become a chore, or quite frankly, I just haven’t been wanting to do it. I’m finally going to tell you the real reason why. I don’t know the consequences of it but I think this kind of cases always should be brought to light, and not just let the blog portals, or others, to do whatever they want to other people.
Let’s start from the beginning…This is my personal blog, which is always been an independent one but I’ve been writing for years for the most popular thrift store blog in Finland. I was already writing it, when it was early and wasn’t updated that often yet, and when there were few other writers and it was an independent blog. In 2013 blog was moved under a portal and the amount of writers was reduced to three. The original owner of the blog left completely and it was me and three other girls, who originally were writing anonymously, who were left running the whole thing. We updated the blog according to the set timetable, ran the Facebook-page, where we managed to gather over 26 000 likes.
I didn’t attend the first meeting with the owners of the portals, but we were promised, verbally, whole bunch of things, such as financial rewards for which there was a set scale. We were promised an online access to a real time data, where we could follow how much we’d earn. We never got the access, even though we asked for them repeatedly. We kept getting the runaround of “oh, we can’t get them to work”, although mysteriously they COULD tell how much traffic our traffic was increasing. Apparently the most of all the blogs in the portal. The promised increased rewards never materialised and our messages were never answered the first time we asked for them and in the end they were promised to be paid later. Stupidly, we believed this and continued running the blog.
I wrote the blog with the same nic I use here, and my identity has never been a secret. I gave numerous interviews to various medias on my own time, and only one gaining from this, was the portal. Of course article’s on YLE (The Finnish Broadcasting Company) and mentions on radio bring clicks and readers for the blog, which is what a portal wants. Slowly and surely I became more and more frustrated at the situation and me and the two other girls tried to reach the management at the portal. This time I suggested a face to face meeting, as I thought they’d be forced to listen to us. An e-mail is too easy to ignore. Finally we met them, me personally for the first time. The meeting went nicely and we managed to present our case professionally and again, we were promised a lot of things. The salary thing was promised to be answered by the end of the week. Do I even have to say that it wasn’t? I had to send them numerous e-mails and when I finally got an answer, it was entirely something else.
My expectations for the salary weren’t high but since the meeting went so well, and we didn’t demand the impossible, only what we were promised, the end result was a slap in the face. They fired us. I was upset. I asked my colleagues and they confirmed receiving the same e-mail. All of us writers were given a month’s notice and they announced they were going to continue “update the blog in-house”. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I immediately dug up my contract and it clearly stated that blog only owned the rights to the name and the address but the content was ours to keep. Thus the portal could continue with the blog, but we could keep all of its materail
We decided to act. We removed the portal employee’s from our FB-page, which was our main channel to reach our readers and which we had been running for years. At the same time, we changed the password to our e-mail, where the readers have been sending their pictures we’ve been publishing. They also send a lot of images to Facebook. I assumed I had the right ot do so, because I didn’t think the portal owned the rights to them as it wasn’t stated in the contract.
It didn’t take long but I received a message from another one of the writers. The portal management had called and YELLED, that the admin-rights have to be returned to them. Apparently they could see, who had done the changes (read: me) and if I didn’t do the changes within an hour, they would take an action against the other person. (At this point I have to comment that threatening a third party for second party’s actions is insane and proves how little legal rights they actually have, but it gets worse…) At the same time I noticed that our usernames for the blog were cancelled. We couldn’t access a blog, that we thought was ours and where we owned the content, this was even stated in the contract. I was even more upset. I urged all the involved to calm down and promised to send an e-mail about it. I drafted the text and had several people to read it to make sure it’s professional. I stated my feelings and pointed out that their behaviour was not called for. Because the management was tormenting my colleagues, people I consider my friends, by yelling at them because of the changes I made, I didn’t see any other option than returning the admin rights (my comment again…Didn’t see any other options? Yes, there was/is. Contacting a lawyer), even though there was no mention of the Facebook-page in the contract. I wrote, that I’m doing it under an condition that we wouldn’t be kicked out of the blog until the contract actually ends, which would be the May 1st, 2015. It was a huge mistake. I never got a response but I did get a call from my upset colleague that she received another threatening phone call from the portal and they refuse to hang up until I return the rights. (Again my comment…How stupid is the colleague? She can hang up too and block the number). I asked her to give a message to the portal, that they should respond to my message and negotiate this like an adult. This wasn’t possible as “they don’t respond to blackmailing”. (My comment: pots and kettles, people, pots and kettles…) So now I’M the blackmailer, because I wanted to follow the contract and not them, who demanded the FB-admin rights within an hour or I “would face grave consequences”. I was never told what these consequences are, but I got scared when an adult starts threatening and behaving aggressively.
And I wasn’t the only one. Our third writer wanted to drop out very early in the case. I wished we could have stuck together as us three would have a better chance against them and we could demand our rights, but I can’t really blame her for her decision. I understand how scared you get, when someone, who is in management, threatens you with a legal action. I wish I could give up so easily as it would make my life much easier. I’ve had many sleepless nights because of this and my stress-levels are through the roof.
We were promised an access to the blog, if I returned the FB-admin rights. I did this under extreme pressure but our access was never returned. Me and the other writer asked for them and reminded about our one month notice but I never received an answer to my e-mails. It was quite clear that the management didn’t want to provide any evidence to us of what had happened, so they could deny everything should the need arise. All the aggressiveness happened over the phone.
When my numerous contact attempts were ignored, I resigned just to wait for my final salary. I didn’t want to say anything until I had received all the money I was owed. In the meanwhile, the dust settled until I got an e-mail from the “helpdesk”, basically anonymously from the portal. I was accused of something I hadn’t done and they demanded me to rectify it. I answered and explained that I hadn’t done it and therefore couldn’t fix it. I also mentioned that my username hadn’t been activated so I couldn’t access my material for which I have the copyright. I asked a transfer file for my material. I received an answer that I have rights to the text but not for the images. It doesn’t say so in the contract but they e-mailed me that if I used the images elsewhere I would be guilty of a crime. Then I got blamed for blackmail again and was told they wouldn’t pay me my leftover salary, if I didn’t fix the earlier mentioned thing, which I hadn’t done. Finally they send me a transfer file of my texts without any of the images (including the ones I’ve taken). The file also missed entire posts. I can’t do anything with this file (my comment…Yes you do. This is evidence of their wrong doing).
As of 1st of May, the blog was completely out of my hands. Still on the 2nd of May, there was content created by me, as seen in the screenshot (my comment: not posting the image). I found tons of my posts on the blog and they had just removed my initials from the. The post above is still there, again only without my signature. There are posts by the other writers too, they even left the Best Wishes in the end of the posts, the signatures missing. This isn’t how copyright works but portal doesn’t care and the readers won’t notice.
Why am I telling you all this? Because if my text makes even one blogger to think carefully about joining a blog portal, or at least to read the contract very carefully, this matters. What happened is very much against my moral values and although it’s easier to keep one’s head down and let other people all over you, I value myself more if I fight. I’m sure nothing good comes out of this for me and I’m also sure there will be even more threats, but few more won’t make any difference. It kills me that the site I built for years, was taken from me and the portal is now making the profit of it. It did so for years but at least I was financially compensated, even if it wasn’t very much.
My conscience is clear, because for the entire this time I’ve been professional. Though I do regret a part in the one e-mail I sent them
You know good an well, why I’m messaging you, although we haven’t been in contact. Your threats were received, thank you very much. I wish, that you understand that your behaviour is uncalled for and very unprofessional. Which is why I won’t write anymore about that.
Now to the matter at hand. If the only way to access to our blog (and for which we hold the copyright) is to give you the admin rights to our FB-page, this doesn’t leave much choice, does it. I will only do this under the condition that instead of kicking us out of the blog, we stay there till the contract runs out, which is the 1st of May.
Although I had several people to read this to make sure it’s professional, the management took it as a blackmail (my comment: it isn’t) and my colleagues paid for it by having to listen their yelling. This wasn’t my intention. I told this to the “helpdesk” too. I tried to handle this as an adult but it became impossible because of the actions of the portal.
Maybe someday I’ll start another thrift store themed blog as it is one of my passions and a very important hobby. As of this moment I don’t have any motivation for it. I will continue writing my personal blog as this opening up has given me new fuel to write.
I’d like to remind that the two other writers don’t have anything to do with this blogpost.
So here it is. Personally I think that if you become successful enough to attract a blog portal to take an interest in you, you are strong enough brand to get advertising yourself. Readers come to you because of YOUR TALENT! Why would you voluntarily give up a slice of that to a third party that hadn’t invested a cent in developing your content? In this case the writers should have done research on the company and have a lawyer check out the contract. You never have to sign the first version. Remember, THEY are the ones who want you and THEY are the ones, who have to present to you, why they’d be better for you. They are the ones, who need YOU, not the other way around. I hope Emma-Kaisa gets a lawyer as I don’t think this will go to a court.
What are your thoughts? Have you been successful enough to get a portal to take interest in you? How did it go?
P.S. The owner of the portal is a company called Bastella Media Oy. To get the names of the owners behind that, I’d have to buy access to the Finland’s Company Database. Which I’m not too keen to do yet. We’ll see if we get any answers from them today. Fingers crossed.