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Blogging Pitfalls: Why You Can’t Ignore Copyright Licensing

What terms someone can use your content? Can they post your articles on their blog? What if the blog is commercial? What if they don’t give attribution? Can they share it on Facebook? What about printing out copies to give to friends?

If you don’t have a clear, ready answer for these questions, your visitors won’t either and that, in turn, means they will make mistakes. Whether they are taking liberties with your content you don’t approve of or avoiding sharing content in ways you do want, they will make mistakes with your content and hurt its chances of being used properly.

As such, you need to quickly and easily convey to your readers what your rules are regarding your content if you ever hope for them to be followed.

Unfortunately, most bloggers don’t think about content licensing and the issue doesn’t come up until they find their work on a spam site or plagiarized on another blog. By that time, however, it’s often too late as the situation is likely already out of hand.

This makes now, before there is a problem, the time to think about content licensing as tomorrow may simply be too late.

The Pitfall

The Internet has changed the way people consume content. We are no longer passively reading it, but we are part of the distribution chain. Whenever we share an article on Facebook, Tweet it out or post a link to it on our blog, we are going beyond merely reading the work and moving into distributing it as well.

On top of that, we have remixes, mashups, responses and a slew of other ways people routinely make derivative uses of original works, further altering the way we interact with content.

While all of this can be seen as great news for content creators, it does create some serious copyright issues. Under the current copyright regime, all works are automatically protected whenever they are fixed into a tangible medium of expression (meaning saved to a hard drive, published to a server, etc.) and copyright law forbids most, though not all, reuses of one’s work.

However, on the Web many reuses of content are widely tolerated, even if they might be legally dubious. For example, taking a photo and using it with a blog post is likely a copyright infringement if done without permission, but many Flickr users openly tolerate such behavior.

But while many bloggers and other site owners do tolerate a great deal of reuse of their content, others don’t. The spectrum of what people think is and is not acceptable behavior on the Web is extremely broad and this, in turn, leads to conflicts and missed opportunities.

Conflicts emerge when those with more open views use content from those with more restrictive ones and missed opportunities occur when those with more restrictive views don’t use content in the way the more open webmaster would have wanted.

Both of these situations cause problems for bloggers but both are also avoidable, namely by setting clear rules for how your content can be used can help ensure that your readers know where your lines are and don’t cross them unintentionally.

How to Avoid it

Avoiding this pitfall is actually fairly simple, all one has to do is take a few moments, think about how they want their content to be used on the Web and lay down the rules for the use.

If you don’t know where to begin or what kinds of questions to ask yourself, Creative Commons is actually a great place to start. Even if you don’t opt for a Creative Commons License, all of which permit reuse of your content in a fairly broad fashion, the questions it will get you to ask yourself has you thinking along the right lines.

However, all totaled, you have three broad choices that you can select from, each of which you can explain on your site easily.

  1. All Rights Reserved: First, you can have an “All Rights Reserved” non-license, which basically means you don’t agree to give up any rights and others should ask permission before doing anything. Though some reuses are still allowed under fair use, they are much more narrow than if a license were present.
  2. A Broad Content License: Second, you can choose from any one of a number of broader content licenses that permit some uses of your content while blocking others. Creative Commons, GNU Free Documentation License and other open source licenses are examples of these.
  3. No Rights Reserved: Finally, through either a CC0 or a public domain dedication, you can reserve no rights in your work, meaning others can do with it whatever they please, including making copies to resell, using it without attribution and anything else they wish to do.

Successful bloggers have taken each of the three approaches but, no matter which you choose, it is important to spell the rules out clearly so that others who seek to use your content will know the exact rules they need to play by.

However, one also has to note that their license isn’t just what they say on their site. One, through their actions, can grant what is called an implied license. For example, by including a Facebook “share” button that uses a portion of the article, you’re granting an implied license to use it in the manner intended. You can’t come around and sue someone for copyright infringement when they use the button you provided and a portion or all of your work was copied.

It may seem simple enough, but if you don’t want people to email or print your stories, don’t include buttons that enable such activities. Otherwise, you’ll be in a very difficult position when you try to claim that someone is infringing your work via them.

It might seem to be pure logic, but it’s logic that’s lost on many larger copyright holders and smaller bloggers alike.

Bottom Line

Licensing is one of the things that most bloggers would rather not think about. In the big scheme of blogging, licensing is boring, confusing and not something most people think helps bloggers succeed.

All of that being said though, it is very necessary. Whether you’re trying to encourage broad use of your work or stop copyright infringement, you need a good license for your content and that means taking a few moments to figure out what it is you want and then expressing those desires clearly.

Fortunately, organizations like Creative Commons makes copyright licensing easy for both creator and user alike. However, there are no magic solutions to the problem and one still has to be willing to put in the time to think about and address these issues successfully.

Still, it should only require a few moments of time and, once it is done, unless your situation changes over the months and years, you shouldn’t have to revisit the issue again.

So in the end, thinking about licensing is time well-spent.

Categories: Blogging Tips, Marketing
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  1. Maria ) says: 3/23/2011

    Not quite sure how this affects me. I have a © (copyright) page on my blog that clearly states copyright for the blog. Is this enough? Or should I be marking the copyright notice on every blog post?

    Related: I finally switched to a summary RSS feed to help curb scraping. Also installed a WordPress plugin to make it a bit more difficult to grab my images or hotlink to them.


    • Jonathan Bailey ) says: 3/23/2011

      As long as the copyright notice and a statement that you can’t reuse the content without permission is on every page, that’s fine. I wouldn’t worry about making it clear for every bad guy, just for the good people who want to play by the rules.


  2. Sharon ) says: 3/23/2011

    Thank you for the post. Yesterday Hubspot sponsored a really good webinar on blogging. When the question came up about how to cite sources the presenters waffled with a “well, use the Golden Rule, how would you like to be attributed.” I shouted to the screen, “No, no, no.” There’s more to copyright infringement and plagiarism then being polite. Bloggers must respect the creative rights of other writers and content creators. And while research often means citing sources and giving attribution, it’s just good business. Consider the blogger who “steals” content and then finds out that the post they’ve lifted contains faulty information. What happens if someone is interested in a blog post and asks for your source of information? The list of potential copyright problems goes on and on. Write, create, and share but do it with your eyes and legal needs open.


  3. Jerrick ) says: 3/24/2011

    Is hard to get a copy right license unless the topic is less and the article must be special content which not been copy, original, are not common , less people know and so on. Most of blogger do not set the right but still happy when people share out their blog and wish to get more traffic from them. What they worry was only their quality content been copy by others. But is hard to avoid. Something you like to share out but you still limit down the copyright, then it may harm your mission.


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