It’s never okay to copy someone else’s content … or to be copied … without permission, even if the source is credited.
I do, however, understand the feelings of flattery when your content gets copied. Especially when it’s copied by a bigger or more popular source than yours, and you’d like a relationship with them.
But before you let it slide, please understand copying is copyright infringement. Also, repetitive content on the web can hurt your SEO. What’s more, with copied content, true attribution becomes fuzzy, so even though it has a credit, it may be missed.
Here’s how to get the most out of a sticky (and potentially litigious) situation.
When Your Content Gets Copied
- If you’re not flattered, ask them to take the content down immediately and to tell you when it’s removed. You can be as legal- or friendly sounding as you’d like. Or request payment for republishing the work.
- If you are flattered, tell them so, and request that they ask permission in the future. Also request:
—A clear and visible credit line, with a link to you. Something like, “Reprinted with permission by [Your Company Name].”
—A shortened version of your content. Allow a couple paragraphs or a percentage of your work to be republished, but not the whole work. That gives people a reason to link over to you, and it helps with SEO. If they’ve already copied the whole thing, tell them which part to remove.
—Ask that they include commentary or opinion on the selection of work that they copied from you, if they haven’t already. This helps make the work “new” (for SEO and for audiences) and offers you more authentication.
- If you write for a living, let them know you’d be happy to be hired to create content for them.
When You Want to Quote Someone or Share Someone Else’s Work
If you are quoting a small percentage of someone’s work and providing attribution, you usually* don’t have to ask for permission, but it’s a polite and safe practice (and they may be flattered and link back to you!). Some companies may ask for a republishing fee.
If you’d like to republish a larger percentage of a piece, say an article, any portion of song lyric, or any photo, graphic, image or video whatsoever (even modified**), you must ask for written permission first. Even if it doesn’t have a copyright on the work, if it’s been published elsewhere first, assume it’s under copyright.
Need help accelerating your content strategy? Pybop can help!
*Usually. There are exceptions, like with music lyrics. Check with your legal department or attorney if you’re unsure.
**Granted, “modified” can mean different things to different people, and there’s much debate about it. Still, there’s no law that I know of that supports modification without permission. If you plan to modify someone else’s work, I suggest you research the situation, consult with an attorney, and go direct to the creator and talk to them about it.
Update: Moments after I posted this article, I received this additional advice from copyright expert and attorney, Leslie Burns.
“I’d also argue that being flattered or not isn’t the bar for how to handle the matter. I’d look more to how you monetize. I mean, you can be flattered but still if the work that is infringed is something you monetize or think could be monetized, then the infringer should pay you something to use your work. If you choose not to charge for the use, that’s okay and totally up to you the creator (not the copier).
“As for modification, there is no legal rule that any modification is okay without permission. In fact, it goes the other way. The statute says that only the copyright owner (the creator, usually) has the right to make any modifications (called a “derivative work”) and so anyone else must ask permission. Same thing for using only a small part. There are cases that have held that quoting a teeny part of a larger work, even with attribution, was still an infringement. It is best practice to always ask permission.
“On that front, most people will say yes and most people won’t even charge a dime. So it just makes good business sense to ask ahead of time rather than face thousands of dollars in legal fees and settlement payments.”