The Internet has long been an invaluable resource for quickly disseminating information and conveniently sharing articles, stories, reviews, opinions and other interesting pieces of text. And now, with the explosion of social media tools like Facebook, blogs and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to provide friends and followers with captivating content—even if it’s not your own.
But therein lies a danger: duplicating and distributing material created by someone else which can be a violation of copyright law.
Let’s say, for example, you discover a fascinating article on your local newspaper’s Web site that lists the 10 most beneficial free apps you can download to your iPad. Imagine further that you recently launched a business blog page, the postings for which also automatically appear on your Facebook business page, and would like to share this story’s helpful tips with your followers.
Four options come to mind: (a) you can copy and paste most if not all of the article’s text verbatim into a new post on your blog; (b) you can copy and paste this text into your blog, but then rewrite some portions; (c) you can briefly summarize in your own words the highlights of the newspaper story into your blog post, but list your source, including the author, name of the newspaper and date; or (d) you can copy and paste a link to the newspaper’s article in your blog post and recommend that readers visit that page.
Which options violate copyright law? If you chose “a” and “b,” you’re correct, because it’s typically unlawful to duplicate information created by someone else. In the eyes of the courts, virtually everything on the Internet or in print is considered copyrighted the instant it is written, published or posted. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as when you are using non-original information under the fair use doctrine, whereby it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. But using the hypothetical example above—where you’re reposting someone else’s material on a business blog and Facebook page—following a or b could get you into trouble.
Choosing “c” or “d” should be permissible, because with “c” you’re briefly synopsizing what you’ve learned and properly attributing the source, and with “d” you’re simply providing a clickable path that leads readers to the original story you’re recommending.
So play it safe when you’re prepared to post, e-mail or Tweet anything you didn’t originally conceive. To further ensure compliance with copyright law, follow these tips: • Avoid copying/scanning and posting an article written about your business on your company’s Web page, even if it includes verbatim text from your press release; instead, provide a link that will take users to the original online story. • Contact the author/copyright holder and ask their permission to duplicate their material. • Ignorance of the law is not defensible in court, and just because a work may not have a copyright notice or symbol (©) on it doesn’t mean it is not protected by copyright law. • Anything in the public domain, including content published by the U.S. government, can be duplicated free and clear. • Visit http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/ for more information, particularly the section “Can I use someone else’s work?” found at http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-fairuse.html#howmuch.