Welcome to About My Business, Unbothered's brand new career column. For years, I was getting tons of DMs like “How can I negotiate my salary?,” “I don’t know how to discuss mental health with my boss,” and “Why does this white woman insist on asking me everything just because I’m Black?” This is a space to answer your questions while spilling my guts, tips and tea.
For three years, I spent most of my time at Refinery29 juggling its main Instagram account along with Unbothered’s. I was always proud as hell to let people know that I was not just the token Black editor. For a while, ya girl ran the white stuff too. Under my direction, the @refinery29 Instagram grew from 1.6 million to 2 million followers. Million. I had millions of people watching my work every single day. That sh*t is stressful. It comes with a huge responsibility to make sure the regrammed artists we’re featuring are properly credited.
I know what it’s like to take on that responsibility (and I’ll admit, I have personally f*cked up — hey, I’m human). But I also know what it’s like to be on the other side as a creator. It’s devastating to feel like your voice or work no longer belongs to you. It’s completely unfair when you feel like your lineage to your work has been severed. From celebs to mainstream media companies to the rise of the DIY creator, protecting your ideas and intellectual property (IP) is necessary for artists today. A lot of young people are at risk of gettin’ got!
I want to keep it 100 about how easily accounts can fail to credit creators — because I’ve done it. When I have messed up and missed a credit, it’s just simply a mistake. I was moving too fast, or I was fooled by another account who miscredited work as their own. It was hard to get comments from people telling me I didn’t actually support women if I forgot an underscore in an artist’s handle because maybe I was dealing with some personal shit that day. As much as I wanted to yell, “OMG EFF THIS,” in those moments, I didn’t. Honestly, I get it. Yes, I’m a curator at R29Unbothered, but I’m also a creator. I’ve been on the other side of this, and I wasn’t always so understanding of the social media editors who miscredited me (I ain’t proud of it now, but we grow).
For our first installment of About My Business, I decided to hit up my girl DonYé Taylor to delve deeper into how creators can protect themselves. If you don’t know DonYé, she’s a marketing genius and in college, she founded a Black millennial agency called the Digital Footprint. She’s a DMV shawty like me (I’m from Baltimore and Harford County and she’s from the Prince George/DC area). I’m always on her page trying to stay up to date with the latest digital trends.
“I have had so many people steal my work and my ideas, it's actually insane,” DonYé told me. “I always thought that it was something that was inevitable because of the internet, until I started doing research. I didn't know that you could protect something that didn't exist. Once I found out what IP was, I started Googling ways to protect it. A lot of it is just moving smart and having discretion.”
"I remember when my work and name started getting real recognition on Instagram. I’ve had my work copied and miscredited by a big name celebrity. And my series, That's Not It Sis—which took my personal account from 8k to 10k in 2019 and was even featured on Facebook.com—was copied by another social media influencer."
This topic gets even more fuzzy when it comes to the corporate world. If you are a creative working in-house at a company, it’s harder to decipher who owns what. Should you be saving your best ideas for yourself, or use them to help you level up within the organization? The story of Jewel Ham, the young woman who called out Spotify for allegedly implementing her internship project proposal (it was the socially interactive design for Spotify Wrapped’s story format) without telling her, really spoke to me. It got me thinking about how interns working at big companies can ensure they’re being credited for their ideas after they’ve gotten a seat at the table.
We can’t move the conversation forward without naming what’s happening to Black creators and discussing ways to protect our work. Below, DonYé shares her four top tips for protecting your IP:
“I always tell my clients to look at a business like a relationship because a lot of the same rules apply. When you are looking to date someone,there are certain red flags that stick out to you that will let you know if the person is really for you. When you are talking to a potential client, look out for red flags and trust your instincts. If at any moment you feel like the intention is not genuine —or if someone is just trying to use you— pack your bags and go! Chances are that your instincts are right.”
DO AS MUCH AS YOU CAN ON YOUR OWN
“A lot of people will try to "collab" with you because they see that you're on the rise and want a part of your success when you get on. Don't fall for this! Do as much as you can internally to prevent people from taking credit for your work. Only collab with people when there is a clear void or gap that they are filling.”
ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF IN THE WORKPLACE
“A good way to is to approach your manager and say, ‘I love working at [insert company] and i'm so grateful to work for a place that values and appreciates my ideas, but I was wondering if there was anyway that in the event that you all do decide to use my ideas, can I get credit? This is a great starting point to open up the conversation, and it lets them know that you just want to make sure you get your flowers and [are] not bEing taken advantage of.”
“You may not have enough resources or funds to take somebody to court if they do steal your IP, but you can definitely take them to public court (aka social media) to get your justice. For example, if you have a phone call with somebody about an idea, send a follow up email with the notes from that phone call so that you have a record of what was said— just in case. Doing this will help your case in the event that a brand/person does decide to steal your work.”