Plagiarism, Copyright, and Fair Use

copyright symbolRule Number One: Ask first, they might say yes.

If it is on the web, it isn’t free.

If it is on the web, it could be free.

Everything on the web was created by someone. It took hard work. It took time, sometimes a lot of time. Hours, days, weeks, months, possibly years.

Everything on the web is copyrighted and someone owns that copyright. It is up to them to decide what those rights are.

They might want to share what they’ve created with the world but only on their space.

They might want to share it for free for use by others and allow it to be used by others as long as credit in the form of links stays with it.

They might want to share only a small bit with a link as credit for use by others. They should tell you how much they will allow to be shared before it is considered plagiarism and copyright infringement. This is called Fair Use. If in doubt, use no more than 10% or 400 words.

They might want to give it away and not care if it is linked, credited, or changed.

It is up to the copyright holder to set the terms of the sharing, copying, and usage, but understand they don’t have to. Always look for their copyright policy, usage license, or Creative Commons license and permissions to verify the rights of the copyright holder. Anything published and shared on the web is owned and controlled with all rights and usages to the copyright holder. Treat it fairly within the rules of Copyright Fair Use.

This applies to written content, pictures, graphics, images, designs, web art, web templates, web designs, video, animation, photographs, audio, podcasts, music, illustrations, artwork, downloadable files, and any other content on the web. It’s all copyright protected.

How to Use Other People Content Correctly

To use other people’s content correctly and appropriately, the following options are available within the guidelines of Copyright Fair Use. Check with the owner’s copyright license and policy for specifics as their terms supersede general Fair Use guidelines.

  1. Copy a sentence or small paragraph that makes the point you wish to include in your article and wrap it in a <blockquote> HMTL tag to make it identified as a “quote” from someone else. Include a link in the article or blockquote to the original source.
  2. Build upon that with original content before or after the blockquote to explain why that article is important to read and how it influenced you or makes your point.
  3. Want to link to an article without quoting from it, just add the link to your original content recommending the article by title or a link around appropriate keywords like this.

If you wish to use an entire article, ask. Contact the original content author via email first. If that information is unavailable, contact them through social media channels or leave a comment on their site or through their site’s contact form. DO NOT publish the content without permission in advance. Be patient. If you do not hear anything, do not assume the answer is yes.

How to Copyright Your Original Content

According to copyright law in the United States and many countries around the world, once it is “fixed” in a permanent form, it is copyrighted. You do not have to put “Copyright” on the content. You do not have to register it. Everything created and recorded in a permanent form is copyrighted.

As a reminder to the world, we add the “Copyright” to our artwork and content. It can often link to your copyright policy page with the list of your rights and permissions for usage of your content, and possibly your copyright license, the agreement with someone on how, why, where, and when they can use the content.

Most blogs include a copyright link in the footer of their sites, the bottom of their sidebars in a text Widget, or on every post published with a link created manually or through a WordPress Plugin or script.

Creative Commons makes it easy for you to create a copyright license, outlining the usage and permissions of your content through template forms.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Think through all the details of who you will let use your content, where they can use it, how they can use it, how much of it they can use, how you want the link to be set for citation, and every part of your copyright policy. Creative Commons is excellent as helping you think through the process whether or not you use their licenses.

You do not have to register your content with the Copyright Office unless you wish to do so. If you are involved in legal action around your copyright, you will need to register the copyright in order to take advantage of the full protection of the law. Check your country’s copyright laws.

Penalties of Copyright Infringement and Plagiarism

In school, if you copied someone’s paper or turned in assignment material that wasn’t your work, you could get expelled from school or at least put on probation which often included a ban from school for a week, month, or more.

The web isn’t that vicious but there are penalties, some of them could be severe.

For violating copyrights, the following could happen:

  1. The site could be reported to search engines through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and removed from the research results database making your site not found and/or marked as a suspect site.
  2. The server/web host could be contacted and the site shut down for copyright violation.
  3. You could be billed for compensation to the copyright holder.
  4. Legal action could be taken to shut down the site and seek financial damages and compensation.

These do not sound very severe, but word of mouth travels. Your reputation could be at stake if the issue is made public.

What to Do If You Are Accused of Copyright Infringement

If you are accused of copyright infringement, you have 3 choices after apologizing.

  1. Remove the content.
  2. Edit the post to feature a sentence or paragraph to make your point and provide a link to the original article for continued reading and more information.
  3. Edit the content to a sentence or paragraph with a citation link and surround it with your own original content explaining why this reference article is worth reading.

Do not make excuses or plead ignorance. If you made it past basic school education, you know better.

More Resources

The number one resource for information on copyright issues, featuring forms, a podcast, and articles on the subject, and a consultant to hire to help you with your copyright issues, is Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today. Other resources include:

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