Maybe you were reading through your email this morning, or checking your Twitter stream, and you came across an article with an interesting headline. So you clicked it. Eureka! It's like it was pulled straight from your own brain! You have to share it with your readers!
So you copy it, paste it into your own blog, give the author a line of credit in acknowledgement for their great work, then hit the publish button. Check off "write post" on your to-do list, pat yourself on the back and move on to the next task. Right?
That's content theft and I'll tell you why.
Blogging is hard. It's time-consuming and, if outsourced to a writer or part of a public relations agency work, VERY expensive. Worth every penny and/or second invested, but expensive. It's also the author's hard-earned expertise and original thoughts (hopefully), translated into the written word.
Just because it is published online instead of a hardback book doesn't make it any less the author's property. It's theirs and they feel proprietary about it.
Sure, they may allow a major ezine or industry blog to syndicate their feed with their permission, but their goal of writing that content is traffic FOR THEIR OWN WEBSITE and subscribers who can't get that content anywhere else.
Trust me, they didn't write it to help you.
When you copy and paste more than a few lines or quotes from someone else's post, it's stealing. Same goes for their images, even if you are "just saving it to your computer to post to Facebook later." If you don't obtain WRITTEN permission or licensing rights (in the case of the image), you can't have it.
- Want to use their blog post? Link to it and feel free to wrap in one or two quotes, but create your own original copy around the reference, don't steal it.
- Want to use a Facebook post or tweet in your blog post? Embed the it using the actual embed feature provided by both Twitter and Facebook, which legally protects you.
- Want to share a photo you like? Use the built-in share buttons most blogs (and all social platforms) offer to protect their rights and yours, and carry the attribution across. They aren't there to look pretty - they are there to be used and give you implied permission to share.
- Grabbing a creative commons photo? I prefer to use the Google Advanced Search page where you can search specifically by licensing rights and usage. But even though the search parameters assist you in finding the right image, be sure to carefully read and abide by the stated attribution requirements when you click through to the site where the image is located! Just because it ends up in the search results doesn't guarantee you can freely use it. Click through to the image source page and verify it gives you permission, and look for attribution requirements.
An interesting side note here - I checked with iStockPhoto.com, where I purchase most of my images, and they verified it does not violate licensing rights for a purchased image when it is syndicated and used in conjunction with the original post on secondary sites. Key word being "with the post." So don't worry if your images land on syndicated blogs that have your approval.
If they end up on other blogs WITHOUT your approval, that is their violation and legal issue, not the original blogger's responsibility.
A few sentences with the proper attribution is considered fair use, as Deborah Brody chimed in on a Twitter conversation this morning, but more than that? Nope. Can't do it.
Well you can, of course, but an unpleasant email conversation and expensive lawsuit may land in your lap (tweet this). Especially if you steal from an influencer, who typically guard their content rigorously.
@morgancarrie It's a question of amount. One or two sentences is considered fair use, with attribution.
- Deborah Brody (@DBMC) February 26, 2014
Lessons from my own blog, RockTheStatusQuo.com
The blatant content theft from my own blog is incredible. It happens with every single bloody post - numbering in the hundreds, since my blog is several years old. Without some handy tools, seeking out the violations would be a full-time job.
How do I monitor content theft? I make sure attribution runs in my RSS feed for every single post, not just on my blog. I have Google Authorship hooked up, and signal approval of any feed syndication relationships on my Google Plus page. TalkWalker and Google Alerts are set up to monitor my name, my blog name and the title of each post, plus my blog has trackbacks enabled.
Plus, every now and then, I'll google a few keywords from a post headline to see if anything pops up. It always does - especially for thieves who don't give attribution and claim it as their content. SO not cool!
I don't think it's necessarily people who realize it is theft of intellectual property - it's agency staff and marketing professionals who are new to content marketing and simply appreciate a well-written post or want to keep fresh content flowing on their blog without putting in the work of writing original content of their own. Perhaps in their inexperience, they even consider it a form of content curation to showcase what interests them.
But regardless of the reason or excuse, it's still theft.
I spend HOURS every month cleaning up the mess. It smarts like the well-remembered thwack of a ruler across my palm from the nuns at St. Joseph's Elementary School in Seattle.
The newest nightmare? YouTube videos created by bots that "read" a post, translate it to an audio file with a computer-generated avatar for the visual, then upload the final video to YouTube. These violations have to be identified and flagged on YouTube manually, plus following YouTube's secondary process of filing a DMCA takedown notice. WHAT a gigantor pain in the arse of all bloggers!!! Holy smokes.
By now, PR people - of all industries - should know better. ESPECIALLY if they are blogging for their clients or agency. After all, their job is to demonstrate best practices that drive the strongest results possible. It's important to do it right.
If you want to include something, then summarize and link back to the blog post, or run the first paragraph as a quote with proper attribution, but never, EVER copy and paste the entire post. Even if you give credit, it remains blatant content theft of intellectual property.
What you can do as a victim
Don't just roll over and play dead; pursue those who violate your intellectual property rights with a request to take the content down or modify it. It helps to always assume they didn't know it was a violation, be tactful and respectful but take steps to clue them in on the correct process. This happened just today, when my post from last week was copied by a small agency who made a daily practice of scraping and posting industry content they felt was valuable, but they had no idea the way it was handled was illegal.
I find that most violators have no idea it isn't an acceptable process, so don't assume they do it deliberately. If you take time to educate them, you can win a new brand advocate. After all, it is damaging their influence and credibility without them even realizing it and, handled the right way, educating them is of enormous value. When we work together, everyone wins.