Be Careful When Borrowing Content
Not so long ago, one of our clients sought a photograph for his blog. He searched Google, found one he liked and downloaded it. He had it posted to his website and Facebook page.
Within a week, he received a $750 invoice (and legally threatening letter) from the publisher of the original image.
An attorney for our client reviewed the letter and said: "Pay it. It's their image and you did not seek permission to use it for your company's gain."
"Borrowing" content from another website happens frequently in the digital sphere. Technology allows us to easily capture text and images and repurpose them for our personal or business websites. With more than 2 billion websites out there (more than 400 million are active), it seems unlikely you would get caught "borrowing" content from one. But it can happen, and you should limit your liability.
First, a little background: Copyright protection for published and unpublished content was established in the U.S. Constitution and is granted by law. Some people mistakenly believe only printed material is copyright protected. Not true. U.S. and international law and court cases now protect digital formats. Content does not have to be registered to be protected, but it certainly helps if the author or photographer wants to bring action against someone who republishes their work without permission.
Producing fresh content for your business website and social media is an important part of your digital marketing strategy. Updated content nurtures the relationship with your customers and also helps with your Search Engine Optimization.
So how do you produce content that is legal - and ethical - and avoids the $750 invoices and nasty letters?
Write It, Take It Yourself
Write your own blogs and take your own photographs - and be able to show your work. Write your blogs on a Microsoft Word file, which shows time and date of origin. Quote yourself as an expert. Keep your photographs in a Cloud storage file (such as Dropbox) for easy access and proof. If you don't have time to produce original content, hire a professional (firm or individual) who knows the legal parameters of original content. For additional protection, make certain there is written agreement with the blog source indicating that the content is original.
Cite Sources, Link to Them
If you use statistics or third-party information, your blog or social media post should mention the source and embed the link to that webpage. Some websites (news, membership organizations) keep their content behind a paywall - and allow you to use their content for a fee. Sometimes, websites require permission for link usage. Government websites contain public information, so permission to use their content is not needed. Advocacy or trade association sites generally don't require permission either. Check their terms and conditions for sharing their site content.
Follow Terms for Videos
If you want to share or embed a video file from another user's site, you need written permission. If the video appears on YouTube and is public, you can use it. YouTube's terms of service require posters to allow sharing and embedding. If you screen capture a video snippet from a favorite movie or music video and try to share it or embed it, you likely will get flagged. Facebook, Twitter and other social media services have software that recognizes copyrighted content and can suspend or shut down your account.
Engage in Fair Use
You can copy content for commentary or to create a parody. Such content is protected under Fair Use laws, which is unique to our country. That's why memes featuring brief television or movie clips are allowed. If you download the meme from a reputable meme generation site, you are generally in the clear. Again, read their terms of service.
Answer This Question: Who Benefits?
If you are uncertain whether or not you can use content from another source, ask yourself this question: Who most likely benefits from the words or images that you post: You or the Content Creator? If you are leveraging another site's content to increase sales of your products or services - and the creator gets little or no benefit - you are wading in copyright infringement waters.
Use Creative Commons Content - Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creative content and knowledge through free legal tools. It was popularized by artists who thought their work should be shared.
When Asked, Take It Down - If you unknowingly used copyrighted content and receive an email from the creator, please honor the creator and remove it from your site. If you want to use it, pay for it. No one wants the expense of getting the lawyers involved.
Protect Your Content - There are ways to keep others from copying and using your blogs and images. Some content software allows you to disable the "right-click and copy" features. Copyscape provides a free plagiarism checker for finding copies of your web pages online. If a bad actor cops your work, you also can report an infringement to Google.
Clever Dogs Media provides website and social media content services.
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