Monday - Copyright Issue of the Day

Scraping. How do you feel when someone copies one of your blog posts to another site... in it's entirety? Even with attribution?

There are so many variables, it's hard to know where to start. If someone has cut & pasted an entire lengthy blog post to make a point for their readers, I suppose it's flattering and another way for you to spread the word. We can justify it by thinking of it as free advertising, right?

But, what if the exact same scenario occurs and your post lands on a site that has other writings completely at odds with your philosophies, and has advertising that turns your stomach? How can you take a different stance when the scenario is almost identical - someone scraped your writing and attributed the text at another location without permission?

Therein lies the rub, and it's what complicates the position of "fair use" as it's called by the U.S. Copyright Office. The deciding point is sometimes as simple as whether the quoter asked for permission first. Here's a portion of the Copyright Office guideline:

"The distinction between 'fair use' and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

More information can be found by clicking here:


"The safest course is always to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. "

Free promotion or not, it's a fine line. Each person can come to their own conclusions about what they can tolerate. I would prefer to ask if the quote is more than a few lines. It's just as easy to paste a few sentences and then offer a link back to the original website rather than "borrow" the entire essay.

In some cases, permission isn't possible to obtain, as in the case of the above quoted text from the Copyright Office, but my use here is short and clearly would fall under "fair use" guidelines. Copying an entire article of the New York Times is not fair use. They, in fact, state so on their website.

Then there is the added issue of copyright and Terms of Service within communities like Google and Yahoo. These organizations also limit the copying of text within their domains. So, know what their rules are and abide by them. Terms of Service links are quite easy to find at their websites. Read the fine print.

Whether you think copying is okay or not, whether you believe it's harmless, or that you're doing someone a favor, is not the issue here. The laws exist for a reason and even if we don't completely agree with them, it's part of living in a civilized society to comply a little for the greater good. Besides, it's just good manners to ask, and good manners are also part of belonging to a civilized world.

For an example of what does work, click here for comments about The Quickest Blog Book Tour Guide Ever posted on another blog. That I like!

Following laws, rules and other codes of conduct begins with us, not the other guy, and not just because we feel like it or because it's convenient. In the murky online realms, it might just be best to follow the letter of the law rather than bend the spirit of the law too much to suit our purposes. That way when someone really infringes on our copyrights to our great displeasure, we'll at least have a moral leg to stand on having taken a clear position right from the start.

How do you feel about having your blog posts copied to another site? What makes you feel good... or bad... about it? And why the difference?


Joyce Anthony said...

That happened with one of my poems once. It wasn't a place I minded, but I did send the blog writer a note saying I appreciated her liking and sharing my work--but would prefer her asking the next time. I was nice--she was nice. It worked out :-)

Helen said...

I would not mind if they quoted from it and attributed me with a link included. I would not want an entire post scraped without permission. I also do a weekly newsletter, Doing It Write, (now in its 9th year) and I often have subscribers email to ask if they can reprint a column. I allow that as long as they give me credit.

If they don't ask, more than likely I won't know about it. But I wouldn't want someone taking my thoughts and words and pretending they were theirs.

Dana Fredsti said...

I've only had it happen once when I approved a comment to one of my posts and it was then linked to another site. I wasn't sure what the point of it was, to be honest.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and informative post, and a subject we need to be up on and pay heed to. When I first submitted the ms for my first book to the pub, the editor informed me I would have to rewrite a section where I had quoted the lines of a famous pop song, unless I was able to obtain written permission. I chose the rewrite, because it was easier and still worked well.