Content Stealing in Advertising

Your Content for my Ad

Content gets stolen all the time on the internet, whether it’s audio, visual, text or all three. Generally, there’s no big deal made out of it, unless you’re in the music or movie industry and consumers aren’t paying giant producers or labels to listen to the newest Rihanna song (and I have thought a lot about the disposability of current pop music for myself, and whether or not it’s worth buying a song I’ll listen to for a month, at the most). Ethics of the that issue aside—they’re not something I’m willing to tackle today—what about content stealing in advertising?

Of course you can’t imagine an advertisement on TV stealing a radio-pop song and that doesn’t really happen. I mean, I’m sure it has, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s the amateur content, from the consumer themselves, that’s being stolen by big advertising companies, or even those pop artists themselves.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that Axe, men’s (anti?) hygiene brand that sells incredibly perfumed soaps and faux colognes a.k.a. fragrances blatantly stole content from mega-social media site Reddit, which I frequent. But they didn’t steal an image or audio. They stole text word for word from the site, and used it to spark the idea behind their latest campaign. And you know how much I love Axe.

If you know anything about Reddit, you can imagine they’re enraged. Reddit is a huge site, and anytime you get a group of people that large together, humanity’s self-interest becomes glaringly obvious. That being said, Reddit is not wrong for being upset over what Axe stole. They went into the subreddit (basically a topic section) called /r/showerthoughts and stole from one of the top posts of all time there, using the text post word for word in their commercial: “When you’re criticized for being short, they’re really just saying the worst thing about you is that there isn’t more of you.” Those exact words were included in the dialogue of the showering Axe man; worse, Axe called it Shower Thoughts, and of course that is the title of a number of sites and accounts outside of Reddit, but that it’s the exact name of the subreddit seems like proof that Axe didn’t expect any backlash, at the very least, despite the word for word stealing of the post. The idea of these barely philosophical realizations that you have when your mind is wandering isn’t a new one, but the wording  and the specific ideas (like the being short thing) belongs to the creators of that content, not Axe.

And Axe should know better. On the internet, if someone else posts that, they probably won’t make any money off of it. For instance, someone cross-posting that to another subreddit. But Axe’s commercials are designed to get people to go out and buy the product, specifically for the purpose of making Axe money.

The fact is, content gets stolen from amateur creators all the time on the internet. And it’s obviously not a good feeling to see that the content you created was taken by someone else, who is happy to take all the credit for it, and it’s worse to see someone making money off of it. But even big brand steal from the little guy, knowing that their legal teams are stronger and I guess they’re just betting that it won’t be an issue. 

I remember a few years back, a makeup artist’s image was stolen off Reddit, and L’il Kim was using it as album art for her single and putting a L’il Kim copyright on it. The user wasn’t even just an amateur and her name was Samantha Ravndahl, if you’re interested. Ravndahl ended up suing the rapper and her team. All the makeup artist had intended to do was share her work.

The problem with brands using stolen content is that they’ll make money off of it. I have a feeling Ravndahl wouldn’t have minded had her fans printed off the picture to put as inspiration in their makeup mirror, but a music artist claiming copyright on it and trying to make money using it? That wasn’t okay.

Do you know any content stealing stories you’d like to share? I’m listening!


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