By Susan Spann
In the digital age, it's easy to break the law and call it "harmless."
...Copying a photograph or an inspirational piece of art from someone else's website.
...Re-blogging a blog post without obtaining the author's permission in advance.
...Downloading pirated ebooks, songs, or videos off the Internet, because after all...those people make tons of money and surely my single download doesn't hurt.
I've heard the excuses a thousand times. "[The artist or creator] doesn't need my money." "It's only one download." "I'm crediting the original author--(s)he should be glad that I wanted to share the work!"
Excuses are not justifications, and wrongful taking, copying, or even re-blogging of someone else's work without the legal permission to do so constitutes copyright violation...regardless of your motives.
In simpler words: the fact that you didn't intend any harm doesn't make an illegal choice okay.
Few artists get paid even close to "enough" for the time and effort they spend creating their works. If you're reading this, you're probably a writer (or an artist, or both) and you know the previous sentence is true. More importantly: it's not for the consumer to decide "how much is enough."
Bloggers rarely receive any monetary compensation for the work they do. The benefit they receive consists mostly of website traffic--which might, in time, develop into a platform allowing the blogger to sell a nonfiction book or other creative work. When you re-blog an article (a term that normally refers to cutting and pasting a blog or other content onto your own blog or website, usually--though not always--crediting the original author and often linking to the original source), you're depriving the author of much-needed website traffic. In other words: you're using their content to promote your blog or website instead of the author's own.
If you do this without permission, it's illegal--and it's also morally wrong. If you believe an article or blog entry merits reading, it's better (and legal!) to post a sentence or two on your blog, describing the article, along with a link to the original source. For example:
Read a post about respecting copyrights on the RMFW Blog today. Do you know the difference between legal linking and copyright infringement? Susan Spann explains why, "In the digital age, it's easy to break the law and call it "harmless" -- and why it's really not so harmless after all. Check it out: [Insert Link to the post you're reading...]
See what I did there?
Here are some quick tips for sharing content without violating copyright:
1. It's okay to capture a short "pull quote" or teaser to use along with your link. Just make sure it's short, and a "teaser" rather than the heart of the useful content.
2. Links are legal--and the original blogger or author will appreciate you for doing it! Link to the original source, rather than copying the material over to your own blog or website.
3. If you really want to duplicate the entire article, ask permission. Many times, bloggers or writers will gladly grant permission for you to re-post content (sometimes with a few reasonable restrictions). I often grant permission for re-blogging or re-posting of articles (subject to restrictions like my byline, a link to my website, and no alteration of my original content). However, if the author refuses permission, don't be a jerk. The content does belong to its creator.
Don't be afraid that sending people to someone else's website will cost you traffic. "Aggregators" are blogs or websites known for providing links to useful content elsewhere on the web. People who value your opinions will come to you even if you "only" point them to useful content (as opposed to posting it yourself). Respecting others' copyright reveals a professional attitude, and raises your reputation far higher than taking other people's work without permission--whether or not you attribute the source.
The good that we do in this world comes back to us eventually--so do the right thing, and remember: respect for the law, and copyright, starts at home.
How do you handle sharing valuable content you find on the web? Do you link it on social media, or post a "look at this" on your blog? Have you ever asked an author for permission to re-post? If so, how did it go?
Susan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.