Forbes.com: Don't Steal Our Content. We Took It Fair and Square [Update]

Last Updated Dec 31, 2010 12:17 AM EST

In October came a report that the Huffington Post was finally profitable. This month, Arianna Huffington confirmed the news.

The secret? Lots of free labor from all those people who hope to capture some of HuffPo's audience and who will blog for free to do so. How else does a burgeoning media empire exist on $30 million in ad sales for a year and draw traffic?
Forbes.com wants a similar deal and so hired Lewis DVorkin to open the publishing door to thousands of unpaid bloggers. Only Forbes wants to push the envelope and resell the blog content -- still without paying the writers. Yes, the mainstream media wants its own freebies, even as it insists that consumers pay for material in one way or another.

[Update: As a commenter claimed that I was making it sound like no Forbes.com bloggers were paid, let me be clear: Forbes.com does have some paid staff and bloggers. However, the literal thousands it wants to recruit won't be paid and will have to satisfy themselves with exposure in lieu of something they could deposit in a bank account. As veterans of the writing business say, you can die from exposure.]

Forbes.com has a reprints and permissions page for people who want to use material from the site and a dedicated employee to take the orders. The company is also clear about how seriously it takes copyright:
Forbes actively protects its rights to the Content to the fullest extent of the law. The copying, rearrangement, redistribution, modification, use or publication by you, directly or indirectly, of any such matters or any part of the website, including the removal or alteration of advertising, except for limited rights of use granted hereunder, is strictly prohibited. You may not use such material except as provided in these Terms of Service.
You can download a copy of an article for personal use so long as you remove no trademark or copyright notice. In fact, because the site makes money on ads, you must agree that "you will not, and will not permit any third party to, remove, obstruct, modify or otherwise interfere with the delivery or display of advertisements on the Website."

But when it comes to the blog material, Forbes is interested in broad permissions up front. The contributors' contract requires the following from the writers:
a) Worldwide rights to publish in any or all editions/versions of the Publications (defined as Forbes.com, FORBES Magazine, FORBESLIFE Magazine, FORBES ASIA Magazine, and other Forbes branded/affiliated media) including domestic and foreign, whether in the English language or translated into a foreign language, including any successor, similar or replacement versions thereof;
b) The right to use the Work as it appears in the Publications in advertising and promoting FORBES, its publications and/or its products as well as the right to excerpt and create teasers and summaries of the Work;
c) Non-exclusive rights to republish, store, syndicate, distribute and/or sell reprints of all or any portion of the Work in any language and in any country;
d) The right to use your name and likeness in a fair and dignified manner and to publish information about you in connection with the advertising and promotion of the Publications;
e) All rights granted by this agreement are granted in perpetuity and applicable in all media including, but not limited to, all electronic media, internet, wireless or mobile platforms whether now known or hereafter created.
In other words, Forbes can take any free blog material and use it in any of its magazines or give permission to any other publisher that has licensed the Forbes name. It can sell rights to others to use the blog posts and also sell reprints. These rights last forever and extend to all wireless and mobile. And the writers get nothing.

This is irony thick enough to cut, to say nothing of the stance being fundamentally dismissive of the writers that publisher wants to attract. If something is worth selling, it is worth paying for. Then again, I recently spoke with someone who worked for DVorkin when he still had True/Slant -- before he sold it to Forbes, locked in his new job, and cut loose most of the writers who had helped build the site.

"We all got a form letter -- a form letter: Your contract is up," the person said. "Thank you for your help. It was [addressed] 'Dear contributor.' They couldn't even fill in our names. If he was having a heart attack in the gutter, I wouldn't call 911." Ouch. At least he was paying writers something back then. Call the Forbes.com angle a refinement. Who said you can't take it with you?

Related: Image: RBGStock.com user woodsy, site standard license.
  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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