Photographer:Fotograaf: YouTubers showing products they promote, got for free or are selling themselves
MAASTRICHT. Is a vlogger allowed to advertise a product in a video diary and not state that it is advertising? Is it all right for a YouTuber with a lot of underage followers to promote energy drinks? Influencers have become an established part of the online media landscape, but for legislators it is still a very new phenomenon. The Maastricht ‘Influencer Law Clinic’ wants to create clarity, both for the influencers and for consumers.
The new clinic is an initiative of the European Law School and has a team of students and academic staff. “At the moment, we are making an inventory of what is already stated in the laws,” say Adrien Dubois, student manager of the Influencer Law Clinic and European Law student. “What are the rules, for example, to which an influencer must adhere when they advertise a product? These advertisements are more difficult to recognise, a vlogger feels like a friend who recommends something. In the Netherlands there is such a thing as the social code, which says that you should accompany an advertisement with an ad or advertisement hashtag, but is that enough? Also, not everyone abides by this, it is not compulsory.”
The students are creating short YouTube videos about the rules and laws, together with practicing lawyer Stephan Mulders, who is affiliated with the clinic as an expert, and under the supervision of Catalina Goanta, who is the academic coordinator of the project and currently hosting the project at Maastricht Working on Europe. This is helpful for YouTubers just starting out. “Many people just want to do it right, but don't know what the rules are.” The clinic offers them (free) advice. “Even though it is not legal advice from professional lawyers - after all, we are still students - we can nevertheless help them on their way.”
The staff at the clinic will also do research. There are indeed plenty of questions to be answered on this subject. For example, what about the intellectual property rights of the influencer’s work? What rules are they bound by when they sell merchandise? Also, what if a picture of your child brings in extra likes and hence money? Does that mean that the child is working? “We will also talk to influencers and ask them what they want to know,” says Dubois. “How can the academic community play a role here?”
Dubois and his colleagues would also like to find out how Instagrammers and YouTubers could use their influence for the environment. “That is not directly about legislation, but more about creating awareness. There are plenty of influencers who promote sustainability, we want to see what they come up against and collect best practices.”