Copying Content is Not Okay

bart simpson copy1

First my disclaimer: I am not an attorney. Since I am not an attorney, I’m going to write this post as an opinion. On LinkedIn, a conversation started with the following question:

Is it legal to repost articles and other content that I find informative on my blog (of course giving credit to actual author) or should I speak with author first…

There’s a pretty simple answer to this but I was absolutely mortified at the response of the masses in the conversation. The majority of the people responded with advice that is was, indeed, legal to repost articles or content that they found informative on their blog. Repost articles? content? Without permission? Are you nuts?

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The legal argument is ongoing on what constitutes fair use as well as how far a copyright protects a company or individual if your content finds itself onto another site. As someone who writes a ton of content, I can absolutely tell you it’s wrong. I didn’t say it was illegal… I said it was wrong.

Incredibly, Tynt provides me with statistics that my content is copied over 100 times a day by visitors. 100 times a day!!! That content is distributed often by email… but some of it makes it onto other people’s sites. Some of the content are code samples – probably making it into web projects.

Do I personally repost content? Yes… but always with permission or by following the policy of the site that created the content. Please notice that I didn’t say attribution. Throwing a backlink on content that you posted doesn’t constitute permission… permission must be expressly provided to you. I often have marketing technology companies pitch me on their platform or software… rather than do the difficult work of writing a full review, I often ask them for highlights they’d like to make it into the post. They provide them… with expressed permission to publish them.

Outside of copyright, I tend to err on the side of utilizing Creative Commons. Creative commons expressly defines whether or not the work on the site can be copied with attribution only, without attribution, or whether it requires additional permission.

In an age where every business is becoming a content publisher, the temptation to copy and paste a post together with someone else’s content is strong. It’s a risky move, though, that is getting riskier by the day (just ask the bloggers being sued by Righthaven). Regardless of whether or not the lawsuits are valid… getting your butt dragged to court and having to enlist an attorney to protect you is time-consuming and expensive.

Avoid it by writing your own content. It’s not just the safe thing to do, it’s also the nice thing to do. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort into developing our sites (as do many companies). Having your content lifted and presented on some other site… attracting both attention and sometimes even revenue… is just plain sleezy.

Image: Bart Simpson Chalkboard PicturesPictures


  1. 1

    Dude you’re absolutely right in the whole legality vs wrong. It isn’t right and it is bordernline illegal in some cases. I’ve read some places that 10 to 20% is okay with credit + link, and it all depends on the context too. Satire, “collages” and other type of stuff gets a little more leniency.

    But I have to say that permission is only necessary if you’re “reposting” the whole thing or a huge portion of it.

    For example, if I’m writing a piece in social media and I want to quote YOU, Douglas Karr and my post is 600 – 1200 words for exmple… and I want to use a quote from one of your posts I will use a quote and provide attribution without asking for permission.

    After all you did post it online and as such you’re now a “public figure” and if I had to ask for permission from anyone I quote, then posting something would just become impossible –some people take days, weeks or never respond. But note the part about the number of words… A quote would be 1 sentence… 2 max so it would just be 1 sentence in maybe 100 – 200 sentences.

    and… i’m not a lawyer or anything either so this is of course, very much my own opinion.

  2. 2

    Neither is it right to make mashups of OPC (other people’s content). It’s the intellectual property or the idea that’s protected. Not just the words. Nope…

  3. 4

    How do you feel about excerpts? I often pull a paragraph from a blog I find interesting or inspirational as the foundation for a new article. I always include back links and credit.

    • 5

      It’s not how I feel about them, Lorraine… it’s how the site owner feels. Excerpts are still copying content – it doesn’t matter how little the material is. Proponents would say that an excerpt is ‘fair use’ if you are doing things like educating others. However, those of us with a blog that builds our brand and our business are profiting from those excerpts. Even if that’s indirect, you could find yourself getting sued.

      • 6

        I think an excerpt is always fair use. The problem is that people misuse and abuse the whole concept of fair use. The question of what an excerpt is and how we define it is what actually matters here.

        Fair use is clearly defined and you just have to read what fair use says it is. It is very well explained here:

        There are technical ways for a site owner to provide an excerpt, and if an author provides that via their feed for example, it is understood that this is *the excerpt* it isn’t up to us as bloggers to “pick and choose” what paragraph we want to use as the excerpt.

        If an excerpt is not defined, then I think its okay to use a quote from the article to give context to your writing and to provide a link. Just make sure that your article is original and the quote/excerpt is only there to make a point or to quote somebody. It must be a small part of the article so it isn’t really plagiarizing or simply rephrasing, but it should fall into editorial, critique, satire and the likes.

        It always comes back to the quantity of words being used from the original article and how much you are writing are you really adding value to the conversation or topic? Or are you just rewording what someone else said and is your article based solely and almost entirely in that writing? if you’re not adding value, I’d question what you’re doing. If you’re in the other hand, quoting somebody or their article to support your opinion for example then go for it. It is only going to bring more exposure to the original article and if the blogger in question is in it to make money in their writing, then this will only help.

        • 7

          You’re challenging your own point, Oscar… and supporting mine. Key to the issue is that there is NOT a specific requirement that proves nor disproves what “fair use” actually is. The number of words doesn’t have anything to do with it (See: If you are sued… you’re going to court and that’s where it’s decided. By that time, my guess is that you’ve already spent a lot of time and possibly money. That’s my word of warning – bloggers must be careful.

  4. 8

    As a developer, I see this way too often with developer blogs. Developers will take code off a site such as the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), incorporate it into their post, fail to provide a reference as to where the source came from and then comment on the code as if it were their own. While they aren’t explicitly stating that it’s original work, they aren’t citing the work either. This leaves you with the impression that it is original work and they are an authority on the subject.

    All of this content really gets back to what we all learned, or should have learned, in high school about citing other work and plagiarism. While it may seem harmless to many, it’s unethical. Even if the poster does obtain permission to re-post content, they still have an obligation to cite their source.

  5. 9

    Read your article with great interest, I think most of us are guilty of posting/publishing copyrighted content w/o owner’s permission.

    BTW, just wondering, did you get permission to post the graphic of Bart Simpson?

    • 10

      Hi Odale,

      Yes, you’ll see the reference to the graphic at the footer – used with permission as long as there was a reference in the article back to their site. 🙂


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  7. 12

    Hi Douglas.

    I am interested in knowing, if content IS copied from another blog onto a website . . . and the blogger then gets upsets, asks for the content to be removed . . . the content is then removed immediately AND an apology is sent . . . Does the blogger then have the right to lay charges?

    Thank you and i look forward to heairng back from you

    • 13

      Yes, Kelsey. Stealing content is stealing, apologizing after you’re caught doesn’t change the fact. That said – I’ve never pursued going after anyone legally after they removed it.

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