“I Was Just Borrowing It!”: How to Use Content that Isn’t Your Own

With all the talk about (political) plagiarism last month, it feels as if we all could benefit from going back to school to review the ins and outs of using content that isn’t yours.

Whether someone knows the rules and chooses to ignore them, or they think they know the rules but actually don’t, the result is the same. Taking other people’s content and slapping your name on it is plagiarism. IT’S STEALING. As a digital marketing agency in our infancy years, we learned our lesson the hard way. It happens to the best of them, take HubSpot for example. They fell into Getty Image lawsuit hell just a few years ago themselves. http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/internet-copyright-law-failure

Good content creators know the legal and fair ways to use other people’s content.

  1. There’s content curation, which is sharing high-quality articles and content, while creating links to the original page and attributing the content to a specific author. Curation helps both you and the original poster develop credibility. You get credibility for being honest and referring to a respected source. The original author, for the most part, will love to have that backlink that drives traffic to his or her site.
  2. There’s also content syndication, where authors and content creators give other blogs permission to use their work, usually through an RSS feed. When you want to use syndicated content on your site, it’s crucial to follow the thread to the very end to find out who the original author is. And that way, you can attribute the work correctly.
  3. When you create your own content, and you use information from other sites such as statistics or methods, it’s just like school. You need to cite your source by including a link.

The best way to stop yourself from incorrectly using content that’s not yours is to understand what actually constitutes “stealing content.”

If you’re talking about blog posts and articles, you should know at least these guidelines.

  • You can’t take an entire post or article and stick it on your site. This constitutes content theft, even if you cited the original author.
  • Fair Use statutes say that you can quote another blog or article up to around 100 words, and that’s only if you’re using that quote to make a point.
  • However, you can use content that’s in the public domain, which includes content that’s been written by the U.S. Government. This all changes from country-to-country, so it’s important to understand what actually is included in the public domain.

Taking images without regard to the creator is a common way in which people cross over into content theft.

  • If you’re shy about approaching someone for permission, you can give credit to the image creator, and provide a link to the original.
  • If you’re not shy, tweet, send an email, or otherwise get in touch with the person whose permission you’ll need to use the image.
  • You can use images from Flickr’s Creative Commons or other license-free images. We use Pixabay for most of our non-purchased stock photography.

But what if the author doesn’t want me to use their content?

If someone asks you to take down their content from your site, you should do so. This will usually de-escalate the situation, and most people won’t sue your pants off once you do what they ask.

Once you’re aware of all the ways you’ve been accidentally stealing content, you’ll want to protect yourself from having your content stolen. Here are some simple things you can do.

  • Use Copyscape to see if your content has been copied.
  • Include internal links in your blog posts. If an unscrupulous content scraper copies your post, at least you’ll have some backlinks for your trouble.
  • Take steps to contact the content thief, and CC your hosting service on this email at the same time. (You can read this story about someone whose entire website was ripped off.)
  • Kissmetrics has a great guide for preventing content theft, and what to do when it happens to you.

But why is this so important? Why does it matter?

For the most part, content scrapers aren’t going to put one over Google. (If a scraped site does outrank yours, you should take steps against the content thief.)

But in any case, it’s morally repugnant to steal, no matter what it is. It affects your credibility and your reputation as an authority in your industry. And if you get caught, the legal consequences can be horrendous.

We here at Go Left Marketing are vigilant about using content correctly. Our writers follow these practices we’ve talked about here, and they go above and beyond to create original content that will distinguish your website, campaigns, and blog content from the rest of the pack. Meet us for a coffee, and we can talk about how we can improve your business’ content strategy.

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