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May 16, 2013

FTC Disclaimer - Revisited and Updated

Back in December, I wrote a tips post about FTC guidelines on advertising and endorsements, which as book reviewers who receive free products are required to follow. At that time I focused mostly on the disclaimer that needed to be included on any post in which you endorse a product you received for free in order to provide the review. The main points to keep in mind were,

  • It must be on each post in which you review/endorse a product - a general disclaimer page will not satisfy the policy
  • It must be visible - it can be part of your footer as long as it easily seen by the reader (if they have to scroll past ads, other posts or widgets/gadgets/plugins then that does not satisfy the guidelines). 
  • It must be legible - you can add it to your "fine print" but do not make it so small it is hard to read.
On Monday, I ran across a blog post at Geeky Bloggers Book Blog about updated FTC guidelines. FTC issued new guidelines in March of this year. The blog post above is good as are the comments that follow. From the post, it seems that the updated guidelines did not make major changes, but instead provided more clarity on some points that may have been lacking in the last update. In particular, the explanation on endorsements in tweets and Facebook posts. I mentioned it briefly in my December post, but at that time there was not a consensus on what to do. The new guidelines seem to clarify this point.

I'm going to highlight a few of the changes that directly effect book bloggers as highlighted in the overview.

  • Placement: When possible incorporate the disclosure within the text of the post instead of as a separate disclaimer. It should also be placed close to the relevant claim. Particularly in regards to affiliate links. No longer is a statement at the end of your post sufficient. If an affiliate link is embedded in your text then you must disclose that fact beside the link. 
  • Repeated: When it is not possible to include the disclosure within the text, then you must display it clearly without the need to scroll to view it. Most bloggers have included the disclaimer in their footers or at the end of the post. This is no longer sufficient. While you may not need to open every post with the disclaimer it needs to be "above the fold" or the point where a reader must scroll. If the post is very long then you may need to include the disclaimer multiple times. This is particularly important for bloggers who show a snippet of their post on the homepage and then a reader must click "read more" and go to another page.
  • Space limiting medium: In my previous post, I mentioned using #ad, #sponsored, or #promo. The new guideline includes an interesting statement in regards to how to handle endorsements in tweets and other limited media: "under some circumstances, be acceptable to make the disclosure clearly and conspicuously on the page to which the ad links." The document goes on to list proper ways of using such a link.
The rest of the document goes further in depth on each point made in the overview. Remember the updated guidelines only apply to reviews, advertisements, and endorsements made since March 1, 2013. Also it only applies to reviews, advertisements, and endorsements where you received a free product. If you bought the book, borrowed it from a friend, or checked it out of the library, you do not have to include any disclaimers (except for where affiliate links are used). While you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to handle these new rules, I will reiterate what I said in my previous post, FTC is not out to get you. Their purpose to ensure fair and truthful advertisement, to protect the consumer. As long as you are making a good faith effort to abide by the guidelines, you should be fine. 

With all that being said, I do have questions:
  1. What about books I originally received free (such as from Netgalley) to write my review, but later purchased? When I make claims do I include a disclosure or not?
  2. What about when a friend on Twitter or Facebook asks about a recommendation? Like today, my friend (who I know in real life) on Facebook asked for audio book recommendations. I wanted to recommend the book I'm currently listening to, but then I thought about how I would to phrase it: "I'm really enjoying Is It Tomorrow - I received a free copy in order to provide an honest review" or perhaps it would be sufficient to say, "I'm reviewing Is It Tomorrow and really enjoying" Would it be enough? Does reviewing = received a free product? Is it "common knowledge" that 90% of the books I review are received free from publisher or author.
I will need to read through the guidelines a bit more thoroughly. And I suggest you do so as well as I am not a lawyer and what I have provided above should not be considered legal advice.

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  1. Thanks for sharing. I'm new to blogging and just started receiving ARCs from Netgalley. The only reason I even included the disclaimer is because I've seen other bloggers do it and it seemed best to be honest that way if readers found out later they wouldn't feel like my opinion was swayed. I had no idea there was actually a FTC guideline for it.