How NOT to Blog, post and share content

Most of us know the value of online content, and so many who are not trained writers or editors are straying into the area of blog posting and sharing of others' Web content. Much of it is informational and shared by industry experts, which helps us all.

Some, however, are doing so in a way that violates others' rights and might even land them in court. A professional writer / author / blogger friend of mine was recently the victim of this, with his work not only reprinted without permission but also with the far worse offense of it being altered, though still in his name. It caused him professional embarrassment because the changes were poor ones, showing him as someone who didn't write well. It also emphasized content that he had meant as subtle, and thus changed his message. All in his name and all without his permission. 

For those who are new at this and just don't know -  folks, you cannot do this. 

Here are some general rules of the reprint / quote/ use other folks' content road:

  • Unless it's public domain (as in U.S. gov't or some such) you can't reprint without permission
  • If you wish to include some of what someone else has written, rule of thumb is you can do so for up to 300 words, but you must make clear from where it came, with link to the original article. (Not an article that reprinted the original article, and not to the home page of the original site - it should be to the original ARTICLE.)
  • You CANNOT ever ever ever alter someone else's work in that person's name. You can't even add a bold or italics if not placed there by the original author, unless you say something like "italics added for emphasis." Even if you see a misspelled word you can't correct it. You reprint it as is with (sic) beside it, which is Latin, and basically means "yeah, I know it's misspelled but that's how she or he originally wrote it." 

Another important issue:

There are a lot of paywalls out there, especially with traditional media. And sometimes folks who are subscribed to these publications get into the entire article and reprint it to the public. That is not acceptable, and it's also not acceptable for you to reprint it in its entirety because they did.

One example - The Washington Post. It has a paywall. Many of its articles only give the public a glimpse of the first one or two paragraphs and then invite people to subscribe to see the rest. If site XYZ has a subscription, goes to the entire article, and copies it on XYZ.com, you cannot reprint that article from XYZ.com. When you see that it originates elsewhere, namely WashPost.com, you can paraphrase a slight bit of what you learned but you must redirect to WashPost.com, where your readers can either, as current subscribers of the Post, read it in its entirety, or decide to subscribe, or settle for the little bit of news you paraphrased. 

Journalists work hard at their craft. It's not just the writing. It's researching to find the story, to learn the industry well enough to know what's important to share with the public, creating relationships so that the stories come to us and we have experts to call on when we need expert input for the story. It's interviewing well enough to get the story behind the story and the important facts. And it's writing it in a well-crafted, appropriate, ethical, confirmed and entertaining way. If we're writing it for publications to whom people pay money for our information, to share it with others cuts into the publisher's profit.

But as important is the fact that altering our words hurts our reputation, and that ultimately can put us out of business as people see us as less than gifted enough to rely on, and perhaps even less than honorable. It's the same as if someone crept into your dealership late at night and damaged the transmission or working parts of the cars you were advertising as new or perfectly-running, and then consumers bought them and went on down the road only to have them fall apart. What would that do to your reputation? 

Reprinting without permission, and / or without attribution is not acceptable. Altering someone's work in that someone's name is a hideous violation of that journalist's rights. You must not do it. 

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