Influencer marketers, it’s time to talk usage rights

Detch Singh, CEO and co-founder, Hypetap
By Detch Singh, CEO and co-founder, Hypetap | 8 July 2019
Hypetap co-CEO Detch Singh

We see influencers across our social media platforms everyday — engaging with their audiences, sharing their stories and working with brands. These individuals are shaping a new era of digital marketing, and it’s one that needs to be built on trust and authenticity.

However, the lack of best practice from brands and influencer marketing providers is overshadowing the impact of influencer marketing. And one of the biggest issues being faced, but not often discussed, is usage rights.

Usage rights are a set of terms agreed upon by the parties involved in a content creation campaign that dictates licensing or ownership of that content. It’s common practice in advertising — brand and talent sign an agreement at the beginning of a campaign, which clearly outlines how the content can be used over a particular timeframe and in specific contexts. It also impacts the fee charged by the talent. Generally, the more a brand wants to use or distribute the content, the more the talent is paid.

The practice makes sense — the talent is fairly compensated for their work and knows how their content (or content featuring them) will be used. So, why are usage rights being completely pillaged by many unscrupulous providers conducting campaigns here in Australia?

The current challenge with usage rights in influencer marketing
Right now, usage rights vary by influencer marketing provider, brand and talent agency.

Without proper usage rights, influencers lose the rights to their own content— which could include their face, personal brand and almost always their original content.

This has major implications for these influencers. They’re being put in positions where a brand might use their image for the next five years without them realising, or paying them for that usage. This shouldn’t be happening. In any other industry, if a brand put an image of talent on a billboard, there would be an understanding of how long that billboard is up, and how much money the talent makes for being part of that campaign and being attached to that brand.

But if it’s influencer content, a brand might have ownership of an influencer’s image, and use it for years to come, without them realising. For the influencer, there is no control over how and when their image can and will be used, which could cut them off from working with other conflicting brands years down the line from their original endorsement.

Bad actors in the industry are making matters worse
Influencer marketing providers are also taking advantage of influencers when it comes to usage rights. For some platforms, their terms state that all content created by the influencer is owned by the provider. This is then on-sold to the brand, and the content can be used anywhere, anytime. Why should a platform own the rights to influencer generated content to sell on as they please? Keep in mind, that these platforms aren’t paying for this privilege.

This is not only morally questionable, it’s damaging to the industry at large. For a start, it hurts influencers financially as they’re losing out on revenue for their content being owned. It can also majorly impact other campaigns they seek to work on, where brands might see their older content being used by a competing brands, even though this was never explicitly discussed or negotiated.

For brands, this is harmful to influencer relationships and audience transparency. Influencers who unknowingly agree to their content being used (through unscrupulous contracting) will be less inclined to become real brand advocates. Bear in mind that an influencer’s following is their power. They offer brands the ability to have an authentic, honest conversation with their audience. As brands build ambassadorships with influencers, it’s important that you’re maintaining positive, long term relationships with them. Not ripping them off for a transactional, flash in the pan campaign. It’s critical to your ongoing partnership with the influencers and their followers.

Time to be transparent
Right now, we’re letting bad actors in the industry get away with incredibly poor behaviour that hurts influencers, brands and influencer marketing overall. It’s horrible practice to ignore or ransack usage rights. It’s something that’s completely unregulated, and will genuinely hurt the longevity and the reputation of the industry down the line.

Full ownership of influencer content can be self defeating down the line for a brand. We need to make usage rights transparent and fair to everyone involved. This means clearly outlining how and when images will be used from the outset, and ensuring everyone is fairly compensated for their work. It is what we do at Hypetap to protect influencers and brands.
It’s time we took action to properly manage usage rights and tackle the disparity throughout influencer campaigns, creating a safer, more structured, environment. Doing this will help to build trust within the influencer marketing industry — trust between brands, influencers, and the audiences consuming this content.

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