Ten tips about Online Copying

If Imitation is the highest form of flattery, please don’t flatter me!. When I first started writing on to this information superhighway in about 1993, back when it was indeed called the World Wide Web, there was so little content no one really worried about what other people did. In the 17 years I’ve had some connection with the online world I’ve seen more and more people lose sight of the moral and ethical constructs of public writing. Today it seems online copying is not only easier, but also more rampant.

I am never shocked at the number of people who came up to me at conferences and tell me they have had copy lifted directly from their blog. Many have had their entire site lifted, post by post. This isn’t flattery by any sort of the imagination. It’s copyright infringement plain and simple.

In the US, Copyright laws are very archaic and often not easy to understand. Copyright only protects original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, or discoveries.

A blog or website is a tangible medium and any original work you write or photograph would then be covered under US Copyright law. That’s the simplified version. It is truly much more complicated than that. Add on top of it the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and you have a very complex set of laws regarding what words are yours and how to protect them.

Rather than getting into the specifics and nuance of law of Copyright, here are

10 Tips Related to Online Copying

1. Write your own material. It’s fine to share a joke or quote someone directly when that quote must be used but rarely must you use someone’s words exactly. While there are a variety of reasons to create a blog or website, unless you’re point is to copy or aggregate (that’s a completely separate topic with its own rules) then write good and unique content. Let YOUR voice be heard.

2. Attribute if you copy or quote. I’m not advocating lifting material. However, if you just can’t write what you need without using someone’s words then at least give them credit for it and only copy the minimal amount to get your point across.

3. Give credit. If someone inspired you or you read their post and the world’s best post was triggered then say where you got the inspiration. You don’t have to do this with every post because we get inspiration from so many places. But if one particular source or event is the impetus for your post then just say so. You’re less likely to irk the person when they find out you stole their idea. Yes, I used stole, because that’s what they’re going to think.

4. Resist the urge to right-click photos. Most who use their own images don’t right-click protect them from being lifted. Some don’t even watermark their images. But that doesn’t mean they are giving you permission to use their images even if you provide attribution. Online images have very different rules. Use a site that allows for Creative Commons licenses that say you can use the image. If you don’t have permission, don’t use the image. And if you do have permission, give credit. Remember, just because it’s on the internet does not mean it the work is free for the taking!

5. Comply with what you advertise. If you say you have integrity, don’t copy other people’s stuff or be sneaky about your disclosures. And if you have some type of badge saying your site is protected from copying then don’t copy other people’s stuff because you’re too tired to come up with a great post.

6. Don’t just credit, link back. If you’re using something from another person’s site, with their permission of course, you should ask what attribution they require. Try not to just give a name. Give a link back, too. It helps you and it helps them. It shows that you know how this business is run. You don’t have to link back using test that specifically has their blog name or personal name. There may be SEO reasons to link back using specific key words, which is perfectly fine. Just make sure that it is clear you are not passing off something as your own when it clearly is not.

7. When you link back, use the same font size and put it where people can see it. This shouldn’t have to be said but I’ll say it because it needs to be said. If you need to give credit to someone, don’t make it so small no one sees it. And don’t hide it or make the color so light that it gets lost. I see it a lot with images where someone will use an image at the top of a post and at the bottom in a small font will say ‘Image Credit: Person X’. Besides that it often has no link back, which may be a violation of the permission granted either explicitly or via a creative commons license, you’re not being above-board in giving credit.

8. If you’re caught copying and it was a mistake, don’t be a jerk. Most people will give you one chance to redeem yourself. Fess up, apologize, remove the offending content. And. Don’t. Do. It. Again!

9. Stop screwing up my SEO. When work is lifted verbatim, the Google bots that search the internet to rank and index information know and often discount both sites. Take the necessary precautions to protect your work. You can set up Google Alerts with more than just your blog name or real name. Use unique content as the keywords to expand your search for lifted content.

10. Abide by the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. What goes around does indeed come back around. It’s not just a Justin Timberlake song. There are ways to find out who is copying content. It’s actually pretty easy.

Do you have other blogging etiquette tips you’d like to share? Or questions about digital rights you’d like answered? Let me know!