Legal Danger for Bloggers: Two Misconceptions, Three Resources, One Suggestion

By Susan Weiner


Susan Weiner No blogger wants to get in trouble with the law, become liable for financial damages, or tarnish his or her reputation. You may have thought about ways to stay on the right side of laws about advertising, fraud, libel, or other topics. But what about copyright laws?

I believe a significant number of bloggers are guilty of copyright violations when they share information written by others. In the financial arena, where my work focuses, I have come across several well meaning individuals who mistakenly believed they acted within the law when they copied all or part of other people’s blog posts. In fact, they had broken the law and could have been on the hook for financial penalties.

To help you cope, here are two common misconceptions, three resources, and one suggestion to keep you on the right side of the law and make everybody happy.

Misconception #1: If you credit and link, that’s enough.

Most bloggers know you shouldn’t copy someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. However, I’ve seen folks who think it’s okay to copy an entire newspaper article on their blogs as long as they name the author and publication details in addition to linking online to the original article.

This is not correct, as you’ll realize when you check out my resource section below.

Misconception #2: If you only copy XXX words, it’s okay.

There is no word-count rule that protects you from charges of copyright infringement. If you use the “heart” of the work, you’re in trouble, as explained in the “Amount and Substantiality of Portion Used” section of the University of Minnesota University Libraries’ excellent web pages on copyright.

In fact, even short phrases may be protected by copyright, according to “Copyright Protection for Short Phrases” in the Copyright and Fair Use section of the Stanford University Libraries website.

How can you share content without violating copyright? Check out the resources in the next section.

Resources for “fair use” of copyrighted material.

Lawyers use the term “fair use” to describe the legal use of copyrighted materials. Here are two websites and a printable checklist that will help you assess whether the amount of another author’s text that you reproduce in your blog post is acceptable. There are no short, easy guidelines that fit all situations.

  1. Understanding Fair Use” is a good overview of the issues, presented by the University of Minnesota’s University Libraries.
  2. Fair Use,” a book chapter on this topic, is available on the Stanford University Libraries website.
  3. Checklist for Fair Use,” the printable checklist from the Cal State Fullerton Library, will help you think through the issues for specific materials. You’ll find something similar online at the U. of Minn.: “Thinking Through Fair Use.”

Suggestion to ensure “fair use”

When in doubt, ask the author for permission to reproduce the content on your blog. Don’t assume they’ll say “yes.” However, you may score points with writers who are anxious to spread their message. If the writer says, “No,” at least you know to tread carefully in how you use the author’s content.

By the way, I don’t oppose bloggers summarizing or adding their own spin to other people’s content. But please don’t violate copyright by exceeding what is considered “fair use.”

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Susan Weiner, CFA, helps investment, wealth management, and financial planning professionals communicate more effectively with their target audiences. She teaches a virtual class on "How to Write Blog Posts People Will Read: A 5-Lesson Class for Financial Advisors" and is the author of Simply Irresistible: Writing Financial Blog Posts People Will Read. Learn more about Susan or read her blog at www.InvestmentWriting.com.

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  • A

    How about translations? Suppose I translated an interview from a different language to English, and posted it on my blog, while clarifying who did the original interview, and linking to the original piece (which was publicly available on the internet). Is that considered fair use?

  • http://twitter.com/susanweiner Susan Weiner, CFA

    A,
    How do you think that stacks up in terms of the checklist at http://www.library.fullerton.edu/content/documents/rbrChecklist.pdf?

  • http://twitter.com/mridukhullar Mridu Khullar Relph

    Great tips, Susan. I think what’s even harder to catch– and becoming increasingly common– is bloggers not only taking entire pieces of your work, but then not even including a byline or link back to your site. It’s infuriating. Would love to see a piece on how to deal with content theft when it happens (and the person doing it is some naive person who thinks he’s doing you a favor by sharing your work).

  • Blogger

    Thanks, Susan. My question is: What about pictures? Most bloggers (especially ones who run a blog that makes pennies a day in advertising) don’t pay for pictures. How do you find a solution to this?

    • http://twitter.com/susanweiner Susan Weiner, CFA

      Copyright obviously applies to pictures, too. As you’re probably aware, there are sources that will let you use photos for free with the proper attribution. I also use some personal photos. My husband is the camera geek in our family so I sometimes request special shots when we’re out at museums and other locations.

      This sounds like another good topic for an ASJA blog post. I’d love to see a post from an ASJA member who’s also a photographer.

  • http://twitter.com/sandrabeckwith sandrabeckwith

    This is really helpful, Susan. Thanks. I’m going to bookmark and share it.
    Sandy

    • http://twitter.com/susanweiner Susan Weiner, CFA

      Thank you, Sandy! I wrote this because I couldn’t find a single source that explained things. I’m no expert, but I trust the sources that my writer friends recommended to me.

      • Chris Lovie-Tyler

        I’ve searched, too, Susan, and haven’t been able to find an article that gives satisfying answers and links to resources like this one. Thanks!

        • http://twitter.com/susanweiner Susan Weiner, CFA

          Chris, I’m glad I could help :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/kate.kelly.1297 Kate Kelly

    Hi Susan, I agree… this is very helpful and I second your idea of more info on photographs. I pay for a service where I can get many photos I need but not all… I have tried going to Flickr and am baffled that many photographers do not provide any contact info so that I can negotiate a “use” fee with them… And actually at this point I don’t even look at Flickr for that reason though it is often listed as a source. Does anyone have other places where they can find and negotiate for photos?

  • Susan Weiner, CFA

    Some of the links in this piece have been broken since I wrote this piece. You’ll find updated links in the version of this piece on my blog at http://investmentwriting.com/2012/10/legal-danger-for-financial-bloggers-fair-use-advisor/