Wednesday, 25 January 2012

How To Share Content Fairly: Four Ways To Stay Out Of Trouble

Internet content is NOT public domain. How can we share content fairly without bringing the wrath of the internet down on ourselves?

In an event that became known as the "But honestly, Monica" scandal, Judith Griggs, editor of Cooks Source magazine, lifted an article written by Monica Gaudio and posted it without notifying Monica or asking for permission. When Monica found out about it and complained, Judith wrote a high-handed and patronizing response that ignited an internet firestorm, according to Dylan Stableford in an article on

Posting someone's work in full, even if you credit them, can get you into a world of trouble IF you do so without their permission. I use other people's content all the time in my own blog posts, particularly when reporting internet news.

Writing news reports

Reporting internet news can be problematic because you have to check and double-check your sources to make sure they're correct. For example, a recent report on a blog about Google forcing people who sign up for new accounts turned out to be a load of anti-Google tripe. I read the article, checked the comments, then created a brand new account to see if I was going to be forced into using Google +. I wasn't. My personal Gmail account is not and never will be used for Google +, and although there is a + icon at the top I have the option not to use it. Google + accounts, for the record, need to be upgraded to Google +, they don't force it on you.

Of course you can elect not to bother with checking the facts, as a Twitter buddy did* only to be caught out and called on it by yours truly. I've got a bee in my bonnet where accuracy is concerned. I don't mind the odd polemic, but at least get your facts straight before you skew them! Where you get them from matters; any blog post that catches my eye is immediately investigated and checked against the tech blogs, where possible. If I can't check it, I don't believe it. Period.

Polemics and opinion pieces

I've been doing a lot of that lately, too. I try to just report the news but there are times when I stop being objective and raise merry Hell because I'm annoyed by something I have seen online. The SOPA/PIPA/ACTA stories infuriate me and so I've been getting involved in the protest movements. The legal ones, that is. DDoS attacks are illegal and although I may report on Anonymous and what they get up to I don't condone illegal activity. Speaking of which, the nebulous nature of their organization means that anyone can claim to be with them and do things in their name, which can make them look bad, e.g. tricking people into taking part in DDos attacks. When reporting on them I'm careful to get my facts as straight as I can not merely because I don't want to offend them; we can't understand them if we can't be honest about them.

Sharing content provided by other websites

All of my articles are based on items other people have written. The principles below are the ones I use and adhere to in order to report what I've read and be fair to the original author and website:

  1. use brief snippets

  2. link to the article or website I got it from

  3. add the name of the source, usually as the anchor text and ALWAYS in the title of the link

  4. add some content of your own, usually an opinion or question about the quoted material

You won't be subject to the online equivalent of an angry mob with torches and pitchforks if you do that. The key is not to just lift content or quote other people, it's to add to whatever point is being made with some points of your own in order to enhance the whole. Judith Griggs could have saved herself a lot of grief if she'd taken that approach. See this article by Linda Dessau for a deeper insight into sharing content without getting into trouble over copyright.

*Inadvertently; he just repeated the assertion and posted a link to the blog post in question.

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