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"It gets better" campaign idea hijacked by "Save the children" in Sweden?

Quick rundown of what It Gets Better project is: Billy Lucas was another gay and bullied teen who committed suicide in September last year. Hate messages filled his memorial page. Dan Savage couldn't just sit idly by and watch lonely kids like Billy despair without voices of reason around them, he started the channel It Gets Better. Openly gay adults from all walks of life shared their stories, to show gay teens who couldn't imagine a future for themselves that there is one. There's light at the end of the tunnel. Adobe systems employees showed that it gets better. President Obama tells you it gets better. Even Rudolf Brazda one of the last surviving victims of violent persecution of GLBT people by the Nazi regime, wants you to know it gets better, and you don't argue with a man who survived wearing a pink triangle in a concentration camp. Pixar decided to call in all gay, bi, trans and other formerly bullied teens they had on staff to let the kids know that not only does it get better, in the future you might even land a dream job just like they did, a clip that surely resonates with the creative and the quirky kids who spend their entire days being picked on for 'being different'. Different is what makes creative products like Pixar films great.

Kleenex warning, around 3:25 "....Someone interrupted me, from jumping off the roof of my dorm." If these peoples stories don't touch you, you're made of stone.

The campaign took of like a rocket when Joel Burns, City Councilman of Fort Worth, Texas held a very emotional speech promising all gay teens that it gets better. Now Åsiktstorped, a.k.a @Kazarnowicz has noticed that Rädda Barnen (Save the Childrens) and TV3's new campaign/show in Sweden is basically a carbon copy of "It gets better", but it's not about gay teens. They've translated "It gets better" to Swedish "Det blir bättre", and include all and any kids who feel bad in the idea. The format? Adults will look into the TV-camera and tell kids that it gets better.

According to Meter Television, which produces the program, neither Dan Savage or any other of the founders of "It Gets Better" were asked about the Swedish approach. Instead, it's said that they've have talked with Joel Burns, but he is neither founder nor a spokesperson for "It Gets Better Project". I understand that neither TV3, Meter Televison or Save the Children have put any effort into doing research about the campaign they have now stolen. They don't believe that they've done anything wrong either, when no one "owns the rights" to the format.

Rädda barnen defends their project, stating it should be "including not excluding" and see no problem with having "It gets better" include stories from children who suffer from domestic violence at home, children who are declared wardens of the state, and children who are bullied at school in general. Kazarnowicz compares it to creating a show called "Stockholm Pride" based on "the diversity of society", but where nine out of ten programs is not about gay issues, so as not to exclude all heterosexuals from the show. He finds the language "Orweillian" and strongly feels it's not just copying the Dan Savage project to a T, but also missing the point of it. While Kazarnowicz is kicking up a twitter-shitstorm regarding this nicked concept, I can't help but notice this isn't the first time we've seen something that looks like a translated carbon-copy-cause idea hit our shores.

Greg Grunberg talks about it

Talk About it is a another star-studded web-idea which re-launched in June 2010, where Greg Grunberg and the Epilepsy Foundation want people to spread the word about epilepsy, specifically on twitter with the hashtag #talkaboutit. People don't know what to do when someone has a seizure or how to respond when told that someone has epilepsy, because most people just don’t "Talk About It". The hashtag #talkaboutit was soon filled with tips, personal stories, youtube clips and Hollywood celebrities pushing people to the website where they can share more stories. When I saw that idea, it reminded me of how our principal at the School of Communication arts, John Gillard, welcomed all students to the school with a photo-copied 'what to do in case of seizure' paper and the words: "I have epilepsy, don't worry I rarely have seizures but if I do this is what to do." I found his frankness quite relieving, and was grateful for it, as I had learned the "what to do" the hard way. When I was eight a classmate had a seizure in Phys. Ed, and us then uninformed eight-year olds surrounding the poor guy panicked, screaming at the top of our lungs freaking each other out to tears, which didn't help the situation at all. My 5-year old has seen Christine Lowe's Grand mal, with me explaining what to do, and what not to do, if she witnesses a friend having a seizure. Information is power, and with epilepsy being rather common, it's something everyone should know - thus #talkaboutit. We've come a long way from the times when there was a stigma attached to this common chronic neurological disorder, back when an epilepsy diagnosis in Sweden would get you forcibly sterilized.

In December 2010 in Sweden Prataomdet launched, where women (and some men too) shared stories about negative sexual experiences that ranged from clear-cut criminal offences, childhood sexual abuse, to grey areas of perceived coercion, condom-loss and doing things one might not want to. A lot of stories were printed in the majority of Swedish newspapers and media outlets as well, with the aim to open up a broader discussion of violations of sexual boundaries. "In the very act of talking about them a new definition of rape and consenting sex is formulated" - Or as some presented it, with the aim to stand up for Julian Assange's accusers specifically. The Swedish hashtag on twitter #prataomdet even crashed into the English #talkaboutit at some point which must have confused the people talking about epilepsy.

Now, a simple speech bubble is the first idea you'll get when representing anything with the word "talk" in it, no matter what the language, the Swedish campaign instigators are just as likely to have been blissfully unaware about the US one (and one can argue that since they used the same exact hashtag in English, they probably didn't know about it at all). It just struck me as a funny coincidink, now that I've seen it happen twice.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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LeslieBAP's picture

This is the kind of thing that keeps lawyers in Porsches. See, you can't protect an idea, but you can the execution. When it gets a bit murky like this, that means if someone sues, it will be a protracted and fee-heavy case for the lawyers on both sides.

That being said, if they trademarked the tag "It gets better" and did so in multiple languages, then the Dan Savage folk have a strong case for infringement. Or, if the Swedish version visually copies the US, then a copyright claim could be made. Or both, of course.

I am not a lawyer, I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

Dabitch's picture

I grok ya. (and hey, we've both been ranting on the topic before - examples:When is a copy inspired, when is it illegal, and how to tell your clients to stop having demo-love --- Inevitable Creative Outcomes, vs Lazy, vs creative theft - where is the line? etc, etc.)

To be perfectly clear, there iare no ® or ™ added to these phrases and twitter hashtags (and with hashtags on twitter, anyone including happy twitter spammers will hijack the successful ones). What these two cases boil down to are lines - the exact lines - said in another language.
Can anybody own a phrase? "Talk about it" in Swedish is "Prata om det" but those two projects only have that action-phrase and the use of twitter in common, so it only got weird when the Swedish 'prataomdet' hashtag was written up in English blogs. So while some people were using it to tweet about negative sexual experiences, others were still tagging tweets about epilepsy with the same tag. As an extra slice of irony today, childquest are using the 'talkabouit' hashtag to talk about bullying... which brings us back to the Save the Children thing.

The "Rädda barnen" idea is a TV show, aimed at bullied and abused children/teens. It uses the exact phrase as Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project, translated to Swedish, and has been written up in the Swedish tradepress as "inspired by Joel Burns".

"It gets better" takes the baton from Joel Burns, hoping to instill courage and inspiration, "says Irene Lindblad, program director at Modern Times Television, in a statement.

They've undeniably seen the English line, as they're sliding into the tradepress on councilman Joel burns emotional speech, though they might not have understood the full scope of the project. That's Micke Kazarnowicz beef with Rädda Barnen, "It gets better" wasn't just about bullying, it was about the very specific kind of hell gay-hate bullied teens - who may or may not identify as gay - go through.

The show teaser (below) doesn't reveal how the show looks, we know that adult celebrities who have been bullied (and at least one of them is openly gay) will be telling kids that it gets better, but if the filming of it will look anything like the often simple web-cam in café look of the original "we're gay and we lived through it"-testimonials remains to be seen. Legally, I think they're home free. However, by still talking about teens and aiming to prevent young suicides these two have many tangible similarities already, and lets not forget they use Joel Burns name to announce the show in the trade press. The question here is rather an ethical one, is it OK to tag along on a successful project in another language, changing the target audience to include all vulnerable kids & teens if the cause is good? (A rather large chunk of the gay & bi population in Sweden say no.) It's not a good idea to start a cause-campaign that causes badwill (remember DDB WWF?)

Like you point out though, the idea of "it gets better" can not be owned, just the execution of it.

Andreas-Udd's picture

I'm not the legal geeks you two are, but this seems to be a pretty clear cut case of what we call Renommésnyltning.

'Marketing communication should not make unjustifiable use of the name, initials, logo and / or trademarks of another firm, company or institution.

Marketing communication should not be designed so that the good reputation (goodwill) is associated with other companies, organizations, individuals or institutions name, or tradenames of exclusivity in general, be used in an improper manner. The same is true in terms of use, without prior consent of the reputation earned by other campaigns.'

That was a Google translate of article 15 in the ICC rules. Seems like it fits perfectly in the "It gets better" case.

Dabitch's picture

It's a good idea to follow the ICC Guidelines, as they're designed to keep you out of situations like these. I've posted an update: It gets worse for the hijacked "It gets better" Save the Children show, as the org loses supporters, as comments made by "Save The Children" people on asiktstorped.se show they really don't believe they've done anything wrong by broadening the target for their show/campaign. (google translate Anders Maxson's comment here)

Should we have called the campaign something else? Maybe, but you can not escape the fact that "It gets better" is really just what we want it to be about. Definitely not "It gets straight."
Furthermore, we would of course act in the spirit that pervaded the American model, albeit with a slightly different focus. Your comparison with "Stockholm Pride" is undoubtedly a small good point, but just a little. For where "Pride" is a well-established concept understood by all Swedes now, "it gets better" isn't. People in Sweden will automatically connect it to the movement in the United States .

HowieSPM's picture

Wow Åsk!

I have so much to say here. First off anyone who is part of an oppressed or persecuted group who gets offended some other group uses what works for them to help others to me is bigoted in itself. As I have seen here in the US almost every oppressed or persecuted group is bigoted themselves to another group (in general) to make themselves feel better. Which is really jacked up. Plenty of Blacks and Jews in the US are Bigots to various degrees. I have not specifically observed the LGBT's do this but I have seen them do 'shock value' actions of the in your face type to uptight straights on occasion. But then I don't blame them because I have done plenty of shock value activities myself to loosen up vanilla people with sticks up their butts.

So it doesn't surprise me to see a reaction of 'its mine you stole it'. But it's not theirs! Its the people who created it not the LGBT community's property.

I think all the campaigns to talk about things normally brushed under the rug while people suffer in private help. The one thing I think that could of been done is if the Swedish group had reached out to the It Gets Better creators, explained what they were doing and wanted their blessing. Not that they couldn't do it anyway so that would be respectful.

Shouldn't the Catholic Church have done something like this for their abuse victims?

Imanaddy's picture

Seems to me that both of these examples are suffering from the same kind of myopic naivete. The Swedish talk about it hashtag would never have met the English one causing that con/fusion if someone had bothered to look it up.

The it gets better parasitizing seems based on Joel Burns speech alone, which was inclusive to all bullied kids. Was that speech written up in the newspapers in Sweden? Then Save the children defend their programme with "Pride" is a well-established concept understood by all Swedes now, "it gets better" isn't.

In short, nobody seems to be googling outside of their own language borders.

HowieSPM, the Catholic church needs to say ten million Our Fathers and two hundred thousand Hail Marys. Maybe they can make a website full of youtube videos and include a twitter hashtag in that concept too.

Neo's picture

This is a really interesting post. One the one hand, the "Save the children" show are admittedly doing the same thing as Dan Savage's "It gets better", are they not allowed to include young people who don't identify as gay if the teen suicides in Sweden aren't caused by anti-homosexual sentiment? HowieSPM has a point that this is bigoted in itself, and a very slippery slope.

The other thing is the use of twitter to further causes. While twitter may be where we converse most these days, do hashtags really propel real change? It seems to me that hashtags will be used, abused and spammed in as many ways as there are twitter users. That the Swedish #prataomdet collided with the other cause #talkaboutit proves that point. You can't own a hashtag, yet. But I'm sure twitter is working on that. Seems to me that twitter was added just to make that a sellable story to the mainstream media.