Curated Content Tips
It would be nice if there were simple formulas to differentiate between appropriate sharing and outright stealing of content. However, in a networked environment wherein people spend a good amount of time talking about interesting things that they’ve come across, the distinction between what you do and do not have the right to use is somewhat blurred.
Furthermore, even if someone clearly oversteps reasonable bounds and reproduces an entire blog post or article you wrote without giving you any attribution, you might have some good reasons not to object to it.
If you are a blogger or content curator, you probably have an interest in this issue from both sides; both as the curator of content that other people have created, as well as the producer of content that is vulnerable to theft. Here's a brief outline of what you need to know.
Fair use of text
Basically, you are allowed to quote portions of published material (and everything online is considered “published”) as long as you include attribution to the original author. There is no specific number of words, lines or sentences that is set as a quotable limit; the court cases that prosecute plagiarism take something of a “we know it when we see it” approach. Attribution is not always a substitute for permission when you’re using text, and under no circumstances should you imply that you are the writer of the curated content. Copyscape provides an information and resource page to help users understand and respond to plagiarism.
Fair use of images
It’s easier to control the illegal appropriation of images, since (unlike writing) images are generally copied in their entirety. Furthermore, images are actually marketable products, whereas most text content is generally published openly and available to anyone who happens to see it. In a representative court case, a photographer sued Buzzfeed for $3.6 million in June 2013, claiming that the site posted one of his photos without permission.
How to tell if your content has been stolen
You can search for your image by going to the Google Image search page and then clicking on the camera icon in the search field. This opens an upload box for you to submit the image you’re checking on, and Google will then search for any online photos that match your uploaded image. When searching for copied text content, you have a couple different options. The simplest way to search for pirated text is to choose a sentence from your article that has some unique phrasing and paste that sentence into a standard Google search field. A higher level of service is provided by Copyscape. If you enter your website address in Copyscape’s search field, the program will search the entire web for duplicate content. Copyscape provides a limited number of free searches, and offers a premium program for users who have an ongoing need to watch for content theft.
When should you fight content theft?
The answer to this question is personal, and it depends very much on your circumstances. If you are a photographer selling your images online, you have excellent reason to pursue legal action against someone who has appropriated one of your images. On the other hand, if you’re simply an online blogger, you may want to stop and consider the effect of the theft. For example, if the stolen content includes links to some of your own pages, and those links have been left intact, you might actually benefit from the extra traffic. On occasion, fans or customers of commercial sites may copy content and the business-owner might decide that it wouldn’t be fruitful to antagonize potential customers by objecting. If you do decide to confront an unauthorized user, the first step is to secure the evidence by taking a screenshot of your stolen material online. After that, you should contact the person who posted it and request that they remove the content. If that effort is not successful, you can contact the hosting provider or search engines, as well as contemplating legal action. Hubspot gives a nicely detailed overview of online content theft, with plenty of resource links.
Betsy S is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.