- Friday, October 24, 2014

Copy Cat Strut

As a blogger, I have found myself in other people's words. I have read blogs where people say exactly what's on my mind better than I could say it. I see my soul in between the words spilled out on a page like our spirits connected telepathically in an unspoken universe. But I have also seen my words, literally, my words someone else is claiming as their own reworded enough to make it legal. My ideas someone else borrowed without giving me credit. It would amaze you some of the bigger bloggers who do this. In fact, maybe it's the secret to their success, borrowing funny stuff from less famous people.

I'm not really talking about someone taking your graphic you made, and using it on their blog. I'm not talking about someone taking a paragraph of your blog post, and posting it on their blog. I'm talking legal copying. I'm talking someone taking 5 words from your tweet and putting it in a blog post like they came up with it instead of saying, "Like so and so said (with a link to so and so)..." I'm talking about when you make a graphic for someone, send it to them, and they don't say thank you. They don't use it. Instead, they design their own graphic just like yours.

While I hate being copied, I can understand why people do it. They researched copyright laws. That's why they do it.

Copyrights protect art. Your blog post is your copyright. How you expressed information and feelings is your copyright. However, facts and ideas are not copyrighted.

So for someone to take your words, word for word, and post it somewhere quoting you, giving attribution to you, and linking it to you, they can be infringing on your copyright if they didn't get your permission. You have a right to take them to court, and the judge will decide if what they did falls under fair use or not. It is subjected to a judge's opinion, and yours. It is not safe to quote someone and link to them. There is a risk to it.

However, it is perfectly safe to paraphrase someone else's words and pass it off as your own words because they are your words. What they are not is your idea, and that has no protection. In addition, people think you came up with it and it makes you look cool. It's the safest way to go. It's also the douchiest way to go. It's still plagiarism to paraphrase without revealing the source. Plagiarism is not illegal. It's just unethical.

So basically, ironically, copyright laws inspire people to steal your ideas.

If you are like me, and you don't want to be a douche, you want to give credit where credit is due because you have morals, manners, and dignity...

1. Understand Copyright Laws

First, you have Fair Use. The thing about fair use is it's subjective to opinion. The things fair use definitely covers are things like news reporting, parody, criticism, comment, nonprofit... Basically, if you quote someone's blog post, link to them, only quote a small portion of it (not the whole thing), and provide news or your opinion, or totally make fun of it.

There's also the implied license. Bloggers post blogs knowing you might print it up for personal reasons, or cite them in an education paper, or share them on social media. I mean technically speaking, sharing someone on social media can be a copyright infringement, especially if you quoted them. Think of it this way, if I quoted one of your blog posts in a blog post giving a link to your post without your permission, you might get annoyed. But if I do it on Facebook sharing from your blog, giving an excerpt I copied and pasted, you are less annoyed. It's essentially the same thing; however, because I'm quoting you, that's your copyright and it puts me at a risk, even to share it on social media (though it's not normally practiced to sue over that).

Another example is if you post something on Facebook, ANYTHING, a status or picture, it is implied that people are going to share it due to Facebook's share option being available and one of the most popular features on Facebook.

But this entire thing is a gray area. Sometimes courts rule one way, and other times they rule another way. News Aggregators are one that's been susceptible to lawsuits, and one site can wheel and deal using the content and another site doing the same thing can lose. It all depends on the judge, the defendant, and the circumstances surrounding the case.

To be safer...

2. Get Permission

When in doubt, get permission from the person you want to quote. I was really nervous about getting permission for this blog post after the fact because I was really unaware how gray this area is... I really thought I was doing the right thing here highlighting people, promoting their projects with their advice in a way that's informative to the reader, but by law, I was taking a risk. But when contacting all the people I highlighted, they were unusually awesome about it. They all got back to me within an hour of contacting them with praise and permission. Do not be afraid to pursue people. You might make a new friend.

If the person has a problem with you quoting them, then it's less unethical to plagiarize via paraphrase. That's what they get if they don't want free advertising and good SEO.

3. Put a Disclaimer on your Blog

Many professional sites have a legal page that includes the following: Terms of Use, Privacy Policy, Limited Liability, Warranty, and Copyright Permissions. Define how people can use your content in case they can't reach you, and provide a means to reach you with any questions. This is an especially good idea because we all want to be shared. That's what makes blogs bigger.

Some etiquette I try to do...

1. I cite all my inspiration. If I read your blog post, and in invokes a blog post from me, I link to you (which is good SEO and free advertising). This includes news stories that I heard about from you, even though I don't have to tell the world where I heard about the news. Sometimes it includes your writing style. I am inspired by the talent of writers such as Toni Morrison, T.S. Eliot, Nicole Knepper, Jenny Lawson, and Patti Ford. These are people who inspire me, and I frequently cite them as inspiration.

2. If I write a post and find out after the fact that you wrote one similar to it before I did, like great minds think alike, as that does happen a lot, I go and update my post to add your link with a little note explaining that I found something similar go check it out.

3. If I like something you said, like maybe your whole post, I will frequently paraphrase it, but I'll still link to you and claim it your idea. The ONLY reason I paraphrase is because if the link becomes a dead link in the future, I'll still provide my readers with the content I was referring to.

Graphic Design Note:

I've not had anyone submit to me any graphic arts to be used; however, as a graphic artist, I want my work out there. I want my work seen. I enjoy designing things, and sometimes I do them for other people like a free gift. There is no greater insult than after working 3 hours on a dumb project just to be funny for a specific blogger in mind, I give it to them, and they turn around and do a less-funny version of it to post on their blog and social media. I understand they are trying to "protect my copyright," but stealing my idea is not saint-like. After spending the time, I have more than earned a simple, "Do you care if I use it on my blog?"

We all know the people of the internet want to be entertained 24/7, and no comedian or writer is capable of producing gold that much, that often. Nobody expects that of you or anyone. Everyone borrows content from others to keep their audience entertained, but when you do, remember, they are scratching your back. They are helping you provide content. The least you can do is return the favor with a little SEO and blog pimpage.