I’m not a lawyer, blah, blah, blah. And while marginally about copyright, this post is really more about common courtesy as well as common sense which someone (Wikipedia claims Voltaire) says isn’t so common. With a hat tip to Voltaire, I sometimes think common courtesy isn’t so common either. Maybe I should explain.
From a strictly legal sense, at least under US law, when you create a work of the kind covered under copyright law, you immediately have a copyright. While most of you think of this in terms of books and short stories, some of my musician friends are thinking in terms of recorded performances and lyrics to songs. Other artists think in terms of other output whether Kat’s photographs (don’t be using those without her permission), or the political cartoon in the Sunday paper, the same concept applies.
But it goes beyond that. The dirty limerick that came to me while under an alcohol-induced haze that I subsequently scrawled on the men’s room wall last Friday? Copyrighted. If the guy who was looking over my shoulder goes down the street and duplicates my work in the men’s room where all the kids hang out, he’s violated my copyright. Am I going to sue him if he does? Of course not. Part of that has to do with not wanting every bar owner in town after me. But the bigger reason is copyright lawsuits are a pain for all involved and if I can’t prove monetary damage to me or that he’s been enriched in some way by misappropriating my intellectual property, there isn’t much point in taking that route. That still doesn’t make it okay. Some countries use the term “moral right” to describe copyright. What he’s done is violate me in an immoral way. (I wonder if that will sneak past IU’s censors.) This is where that too uncommon courtesy comes into play.
There are many places on the Internet where people share things. Thoughts, news, opinions, whatever. Sometimes it’s as easy as clicking a button. No problem. Click away. When you share a Facebook status or retweet someone’s pithy tweet, there’s an implicit agreement from the originator that this is okay. In fact, it’s encouraged. If you copy/paste what you feel is an especially pertinent sentence or two from a blog post (putting that part in quotes), maybe add a few thoughts of your own, and include a link to the original, we’re good. You’re giving credit to the originator, quoting a small portion (considered “fair use”), and the link is providing attribution to the person who created the blog post.
However, any time you’re using original content created by someone else, you need to consider whether what you’re doing is okay. I gave a few examples above of things that are. Let’s try a few that cross the line.
Copying an entire blog post into your blog: not okay. Even attribution and/or a link doesn’t make that all right. How much is okay is nebulous as far as fair use and copyright law. If you’ve copied over half, you’ve almost surely overstepped. If in doubt, ask permission and ask how much is okay to quote. Always mention where it came from (attribution) and always link to the original. While the link is another form of attribution, it serves the additional purpose of showing your blog readers where they can read the whole thing. This not only gives you the benefit you were aiming for (informing your blog readers), but does so in a way that rewards the content creator (additional eyeballs on their work) while still giving you the traffic and views you wanted. A win-win.
I just saw a funny picture on Facebook and clicked share, but I realized the friend who shared it also had a great comment that made it even funnier. The comment doesn’t share, but I can copy/paste it into my thoughts while sharing. Cool. Problem solved. Except for that not-so-common thing. Why not acknowledge my friend by giving her credit in my comments? I can even do it as a tag so she’ll know what I’ve done. Now the problem really is solved.
Another friend just posted some great thoughts on one of the Presidential candidates in a private Facebook group I’m in where we discuss politics. I have a lot of friends who need to see this so I’ll share it to my wall. I click share and realize that the security is set so “only certain people can see this.” Fine. This is why I love the computer’s copy/paste function. But wait. I need to attribute it. I’d love for my friends to think I came up with this by myself, but I didn’t. Fine. I’ll tag him as an attribution. It won’t let me because I’m not a Facebook friend with everyone in the group. So I’ll just type his name, that way he’ll still get credit.
This was posted in a private group. The security settings on the post are set so the people who can see it are limited. Are we sure this person wants this spread around the Internet with his name on it? There are things I say in this group that I wouldn’t want some friends or family to see. (No, it isn’t bad. More a way to keep the peace.) In this situation, you’re left with three choices. One is to not share the comment. Two is to rewrite it in your own words. (I’d probably still give a vague attribution, saying I’d seen some analysis in private and thought it was worth passing along the thoughts behind it in my own words.) The third, probably best answer, is to ask the original content creator if it is okay for you to post it as your own status and can you attribute it to him. It might even be a good time to send a friend request. I’ve even seen this happen from time to time in this group.
I’ll bet those who have read this far are thinking of other examples just like these. Let’s hear about them and how you handled it, whether sharing someone else’s content, or having yours passed along when it wasn’t okay with you.