The web is full of awesome content, isn't it?
Stunning photographs, super cute illustrations, insightful info graphics...
Brilliant blog posts, beautiful prose and poetry, articles that answer our questions and challenge our preconceptions...
...and we want to share it all!
My Readers Would Love This! I'll Just Borrow it...
So it's okay, right? I can just borrow whatever I see online and use it myself! After all, it's already online and if it's free to access then it's okay for me to share it free, too. If I'm not making money on it then I'm not doing anything wrong. Or if I rewrote a few words, then I've made it mine. No.
Hold it right there. Let's take a few steps back and discuss just what's okay to "borrow" and what's not.
Note: this blog post is going to focus on written words, but if you're curious about images and how to find ones that you can legally use on your website or blog, try this post: How to Find & Add Images to Your Blog Posts
We can all agree that reprinting someone else's words or images and adding our own name as the author (or leaving off an author credit completely) is wrong. Changing something a little bit also doesn't make it ours. But what bloggers and others online sometimes miss is that there's more to it that just whether or not we give proper credit.
It's not always legal to reprint someone else's content even if we give credit to them. From the moment a written work or photograph/image is created, the author holds rights to that work, whether they've officially registered a copyright with the government or not (at least in the USA, and signatories of the Bern Convention and/or Universal Copyright Convention).
From a blogger/writer's perspective, many of us spend countless hours developing unique content for our websites that we haven't granted permission for reprinting for a variety of reasons.
One of the questions I get frequently from small business owners I work with is how to stop others from reprinting their blog posts or website content without permission. Just linking back to the author's site at the end of a post/article doesn't make it okay to reprint.
What Happens When You Copy Content?
Many don't realize it, or think about it this way, but if you copy content from another website:
- you may be violating their copyright (if they haven't licensed the content for reprint)
- you may be subjecting them to duplicate content penalties in search engines (because your site then has the exact same written content as theirs on that particular post/page) and your website is competing with them in the search engines for the same words and phrases
- you may be making money off of their hard work (if your site has adsense ads or advertising, or you're promoting an affiliate link with their content, and you're using their content to drive traffic to your site)
- you may be losing a potential joint venture partner, guest post contributor, and general ally in your online world (because you don't want your first introduction to someone to be them finding their content republished on your site without permission!)
- you may be opening yourself up to legal liability and law suit or losing your website
Authors don't tend to appreciate their content being reprinted without permission for all of the reasons above.
If you do it anyway, you've put your own website at risk. If you copy something that permission wasn't granted for you can end up having your website shut down by your host if the owner of the content decides to go after you for it. I know people on both sides of having had it happen (people who've reprinted or "borrowed" content and ended up losing their site or pages of their sites under DMCA and people who've used DMCA to get their content taken off of other websites) and neither side is a "fun" experience.
Another thing to be aware of is that this doesn't just apply to other bloggers, but any website. Many news websites are actively going after bloggers who've reprinted even excerpts of news articles. And they're after money, not just removal of their content.
Look for Permission, Ask for Permission
Instead, look for permission. Some bloggers and writers license their content under Creative Commons, as Aimee pointed to. If they do, it will be somewhere on the blog post/article/website. Or, look for their work on EzineArticles if you find an author you like, or other sites where you'll find articles with permission to reprint. If you don't see permission, then assume it's NOT okay to reprint and ASK FIRST.
I've done this with several of the articles I've shared on my blog. I know writers who I enjoy reading and I just go to www.ezinearticles.com and search for their name. That brings up articles they're sharing for reprint.
Many writers would happily grant permission if they were asked! They might just say yes, or they might say no but point you to other content they allow for reprint, or they may even be willing to write a guest post or unique article just for your website in exchange for the link back.
But What If I *Really* Want to Share It?
I *really* want a Starbucks next door to my house but that doesn't mean I can go kidnap the barista, haul all the equipment over, and set it back up in my front yard. I don't think the cops would buy my defense -- no matter how much I *really* wanted it... Even if it's the barista who can make the BEST cup of coffee ever, I can't choose to take it without permission (and payment in this case).
You don't have to copy and reprint content to share it.
If you find a blog post, article, poem or whatever that you want to share but it's not available to reprint why not write up a blog post of your own around the topic (using all your own thoughts/words) and then link to the resource for your readers. You can expand on the thoughts the author's sharing and add your own additional tips, or share your own experience that explains why you agree with the article.
Or share it on social networks, forums, and other places you interact online.
The author will appreciate that MUCH more and you may even find you've made a new friend instead of creating an enemy.
Have You Had Your Content Copied?
I've been through it several times. And while in my own experience it's generally been useless to contact the copier, I know others who've had success with it because the person who copied their content didn't realize it wasn't okay and they took down then content when they were contacted. If your content is stolen, here are some ways you can deal with it:
- Option One: Ignore it because they can't copy as fast as you can create more awesome stuff.
- Option Two: Contact the copier and ask them to remove it from their site.
- Option Three: If it's a blogger who's "borrowed" your work (and you're very sure -- not just the ideas, but your actual words) then leave a comment on the blog linking back to your post.
- Option Four: Call them out on social media. I don't recommend this because it doesn't seem like a very kind way to deal with the situation, but I can understand why people resort to it sometimes. It's an option that could work.
- Option Five: Use DMCA and contact the website host of the infringing content to have it removed. Here are the details: What to Do When Someone Steals Your Content
Resources You Should Check Out
Creative Commons Licensing:
- http://www.thelaw.com/guide/ip/copyright/understanding-copyright-basics/ (note here that the (c) symbol is *not* required for a work to be copyrighted)
- http://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-Copyright-Infringement (excellent tips on how to make sure you don't accidentally infringe on copyrights)
Copyright and Content Protection for Online Businesses:
Now, let's end a serious post on a fun note. Here's a great video on the topic of plagarism from EzineArticles.com: