Warning: Don’t Copy!

Chris Tomlin in Johnson City

Image by DeaPeaJay via Flickr

Dear Student Blogger,

I just noticed your new blog post. You pasted an entire song’s lyrics on your site. And in another post, you copied a whole page of text and pictures from Wikipedia.

When you copy and paste so much stuff from another place, it is a violation of copyright (that means you are stealing another person’s work). This is true even when you tell where you got it from — and since you didn’t make their names link back to their webpages, your “tell where you got it from” wasn’t quite complete.

I know you didn’t mean it as stealing. What you did is natural: you found something you enjoyed, and you wanted to share it. Even adults who should know better do such things, so it’s no surprise when a student does it. But an important part of learning to blog (or to write anything, since the same rules apply to school reports or other papers) is learning how to share things properly.

Sharing from Information Sites

Image representing Wikipedia as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

If you want to share something another blogger has written, or something from an information website, you should do one of two things:

  • Put the most interesting facts into your own words, and then write, “To find out more about this fascinating topic, read the article at Wikipedia.” [Make that last part into a link to the Wiki page.]
  • Or pick out the most interesting (short!) paragraph and make it a block-quote, and then write, “Read the entire article at My Friend’s Blog.” [Make the whole sentence into a link.]

Or do something similar. The exact words of your link don’t matter — though they should be words, not http://gobbledy-gook — but you can only use a very little bit of other people’s work on your page. Then you have to link to their place, so your readers can go there and read the rest.

Sharing Poetry or Song Lyrics

Experimental Group Voice singer

Image by yugenro via Flickr

Poetry and song lyrics are more difficult, because they are usually so short. It can be hard to use a “very little bit” of something that is already small. It’s like taking a fraction of a fraction — all you get is crumbs!

One rule of thumb to avoid stealing someone’s copyright is never to quote more than 10% of the original (or more than 400 words, whichever is smaller). But in one court case, quoting less than 1% of a book was judged as illegal. With a short song, even one line of lyrics might be too much.

So what can a blogger do?

DIT student now a blogger

Image by biverson via Flickr

Check these four key principles about “fair use” under copyright law:

(1) The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
In other words, are you trying to earn money or enhance your own reputation by quoting this text? That’s a danger sign! Also, did you make it clear that you are NOT the original author?

(2) The nature of the copyrighted work.
Creative work is more strongly protected than just plain information. If you are quoting a song or poem, be extra careful!

(3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
Use a tiny amount in comparison with the original, and don’t use the most important lines or most significant section. (This was the problem in that court case I mentioned.)

(4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
This is the most important principle. Your quotation must never steal market value from the original author. Be generous with links, and make sure your readers know where they can find or buy the original song or poem.

Sharing Photographs

Photographed Photographers

Image by flickrolf via Flickr

All bloggers like to use photographs in their blog posts. Be sure you include a credit line for the photos, either as a caption with each photo or as a special sentence at the bottom of your post. Otherwise, it looks like you’re trying to claim the pictures as if you took them yourself.

I like to find photos at Flickr, and I’ve written a whole blog post about how to download and use Flickr photos and give proper credit.

With Wikipedia photos, it’s best to link to the photo page (like this one). Make sure to read the copyright information, and check that it says you are free to share the photo. Then be sure to follow the rules. For instance, most pages say you “must attribute the work,” and some add that “you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license,” which means you couldn’t sell the photo or try to make money from it.

If you use Zemanta to find images, it should take care of the credit caption and linking for you. But do use Preview to check that it’s correct. A couple of times, I’ve had to add the caption myself because Zemanta messed up.

Homework: Go Fix Your Mistakes

I’m sure you want to do the right thing. I look forward to seeing how you rework your blog posts.

Best wishes!

Sincerely,
Mrs. TeacherMom


4 responses to “Warning: Don’t Copy!

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