Copyright and Ethics in the Blogging Community

Copyright; an Issue Close to our Hearts.

Bloggers, writers, dancers, musicians, vloggers, painters, artists and designers: we are all content creators, and we are all proud of the work that we do. A huge amount of content creators are doing it for the love of the craft, producing content for your entertainment, with little to no monetary reward. The people who make money from creating content are the hard-working, privileged minority.

So, content theft is an issue that is close to all of our hearts, successful or not.

I never intended to write a blog about copyright infringement and ethics in the content creation community. This is because the creators I know personally, and have encountered recently, are incredibly supportive, and respectful of each other’s work. Last week though, I found myself faced with an unapologetic content thief and I’ve been unable to think about much else since.

So here we are, I’m using my platform to rant about ethics and copyright and you all get to read it.

The Facts about Copyright

No matter how tempting it may be to “borrow” content from someone else without seeking permission, the very simple fact is that you can’t: it’s illegal.  You may be tempted to upload a photo to your blog that doesn’t belong to you, or use a snippet of music in a YouTube video. You may even quote someone else’s writing in your writing, but if you haven’t sought their permission or properly attributed the quote to the author (with links and all), you’ve probably infringed copyright.

Small bloggers, right up to international corporations are guilty of doing this, either knowingly or not. It’s not only devastating for the rights owner to have their work stolen, but it’s time-consuming for those who now have to fight for the return of their work. 

While the law varies slightly between jurisdiction, the general idea remains the same. Copyright exists on any original work whether it’s published or not, and it does not need to be registered with any authority in order to be protected.

Work may be copied or shared without permission of the copyright owner under a set of narrow and clearly defined rules including (but not limited to):

  • For the purposes of satire, parody or caricature
  • For educational or private research purposes
  • Criticism, review and news reporting
  • Incidental inclusion (wherein copyrighted material may have been included without intent, such as a copyright music being captured in the background of a holiday video)

Copyright Law in the UK || Copyright Law in Australia || Copyright Law in the US

copyright and ethics in the blogging community

My History with Copyright

From primary school, we are educated about plagiarism and copyright infringement. We are taught to reference and quote any sources we use directly or indirectly and properly source photos where we can. We are taught the legal ramifications it can have academically, professionally and personally if we knowingly infringe upon copyright. At university, part of my degree involved studying legal issues in the creative industries, and my other qualifications in marketing and business both touched on copyright issues. As a marketer and professional content developer, I am hyper-aware of paying proper tribute to any sources or content I use that do not belong to me. Not only does this affect my employer’s reputation, but it also affects my reputation as a reliable professional, and a decent person.

I was once asked earlier in my career to create How-To videos for our clients. I was encouraged to “borrow” popular copyrighted music to make it seem more “fun” and “relatable” – as opposed to using royalty free music that was easily accessible online. This “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach to copyright infringement is really something I refuse to associate myself with. Unfortunately it’s the go-to approach, not only for the aforementioned recalcitrant blogger, but also countless big corporations. At the risk of losing the assignment and putting myself offside early in my career with a manager, I refused to follow the brief. Instead I insisted upon using the royalty free music. I refused to risk my professional reputation for the sake of a few videos, and I recommended they take the same approach. And so, it was.

Ethics and Morality in Copyright

No matter the scale of the project, or the likelihood of being caught, stealing somebody else’s art is not something I can be cavalier about. Chances are, we wouldn’t have been caught if I had proceeded with “borrowing” that music. But that’s not a risk I’m willing to take, nor is it a reputation I’m willing to cultivate.

This attitude is something I’ve continued to passionately advocate for both in my professional work, and also on this, my personal blog. I don’t care if I get 10 views or 10 million, I won’t infringe on copyright, or work with people who are willing to do so.

Legal issues aside, how can you call yourself a professional if you’re stealing someone else’s work? How can you possibly have any kind of legitimacy in the content creation world if you’re so cavalier about infringing copyright? How will you ever convince other bloggers, writers, YouTubers, photographers and artists to collaborate with you, if you have a history of stealing other people’s work? How can we trust you not to do the same to us?

Who is risking their reputation as casually as you are?

Not any brand, blogger or creator I’d want to partner with anyway.

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Useful Links

A Warning for all Bloggers: That Photo could get you Sued. A real life case of a blogger using an image of a celebrity on their website and being sued years later – even after the photo had been taken down.

How to Protect your Blog Content. Concerned about your content being stolen? Take a look at these tips by Peg Fitzpatrick.

Barn Images, Unsplash, Death to Stock and Gratisography are all great royalty free stock image websites.

Disclaimer

The information and opinions on this blog are for information purposes only. They are not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice, and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. Please always seek professional advice from a qualified legal representative before proceeding with the use of copyrighted materials. 

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This website contains affiliate links. Check out my disclosure policy for more information.
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8 Comments

  1. Kris
    May 3, 2017 / 5:34 pm

    popular copyrighted music to make it seem more “fun” and “relatable”

    • May 3, 2017 / 7:21 pm

      Hi Kris, I don’t think your comment is showing up properly but I believe you asked “<-- Is there a way to do use copyrighted material legally?" The answer is yes, of course you can but only with the express written consent of the copyright owner. This may or may not also come with a fee you'd have to pay them as well. There's so many royalty-free photography (like those linked above), music and video websites out there online anyway, so you don't need to use copyrighted material.

  2. May 3, 2017 / 6:03 pm

    Ahh, a lone voice echoing in the thick forest. Good for you and thanks for doing what you can to set people straight on this. I was always amazed how few college students understood what plagiarism is and what mild discipline measures were taken to deal with the problem. Keep fighting the good fight!

    • May 3, 2017 / 6:04 pm

      Thank you so much! There’s no excuse for plagiarism, at least not from what I’ve had drilled into me during my education. Shocking they can get to college and still not know…

  3. May 4, 2017 / 2:35 pm

    Detailed post with good advise. Thanks for writing.
    Someone posted my full posts on his/her website, I stumbled upon it while searching something on Google. Very annoying…. They didn’t responded to my msgs and finally I had to make noise on twitter and they removed.

    • May 4, 2017 / 2:47 pm

      Thank you! Ah I’m sorry that happened to you. I can’t believe people think they can get away with this. I wish there was an automatic way to know if it’s happened! Seems to just be by chance when people stumble upon their own work.

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