Do You Make These 5 Common Copyright Mistakes on Your Blog?

Photo Credit: Blogging Research Wordle by Kristina B. used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo Credit: Blogging Research Wordle by Kristina B. used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Blogs are well-known for routinely violating common copyright laws.

Not only is it, well, illegal, but it also presents some major branding and reputation issues, as well.

Savvy readers, for one, can identify when a blog is using copyrighted information without permission.

And it doesn’t bode well for your reputation! If you want to be recognized as a true professional in your field, then you need to give credit where credit is due.  Let’s not forget about the ethical factor too, here. Freelancing is a community and we’re all in this together. Do your comrades a favor and give them credit for their hard work. I’m sure you would want them to do the same for you.

That being said, whether blogging is your business, or just a small piece of the bigger puzzle, it’s important that you do it right. Copyright infringement is no joke, so you don’t want to take any chances. You don’t have to be an attorney to understand copyright law and your blog, but it is essential that you do your homework to appreciate the basics. This will keep you out of hot water with the law and protect your quality reputation.

For starters, make sure you’re not making any of these 5 common copyright mistakes in your blog. And if you are, now’s the time to fix them!

Mistake #1 – You ignore the law in the first place!

First of all, most bloggers completely ignore the law altogether. No, I’m not insinuating that all bloggers are crooks! What I am saying is that a large majority of today’s bloggers’ are so eager to get their fingers flying across the keyboard and see their work getting published that you don’t stop to ask, ‘What might be the legal ramifications of doing this?’

I mean, who really thinks of that, right?

So, if you’re actually taking a moment to read this article, then good for you! It’s a responsible first step and signifies your dedication to being a true professional.

Mistake #2 – Failing to give credit for images and graphics

Every good blogger knows that a blog is not a blog without a relevant graphic. It’s essential for the flow of your post and supports your audiences’ interpretation and retention of the content.

The problem is that most people mistakenly believe that pulling an image off of Google or Bing is free. That’s far from being the case. Somebody, somewhere, created that image from scratch and that person or entity likely holds the copyrights, even if they haven’t registered it. Which means that you need to give them proper credit.

A good rule of thumb is to never use an image if you can’t find its original source. This just leaves you vulnerable to all kinds of troubles. Instead, only use creative commons licensed images that you can legally purchase or acquire the right to use.

There are a number of options for legally gaining access to an image. Several websites, for example, offer you the right to purchase copyrighted pictures and images for a monthly subscription or fee to their site.

Another option is to establish a working relationship with a graphic designer – or two – whose work you like and want to buy. You can always use an online copyright and intellectual property transfer service like Kunvay so you can be sure you fully own your work and your future. The designer will appreciate the business and professionalism and your blog will have consistently powerful graphics, without any of the copyright headaches.

Either way, it’s a lot more pleasant than getting a Cease and Desist Letter!

Mistake #3 – Failing to properly cite your sources

If your blog is well informed, you’re likely doing some research for it; at least, you should be. It’s a great marketing strategy because referencing established thought leaders and professionals is good for your image and makes your blog more credible. The problem is that most bloggers aren’t properly citing these sources and it could get you in hot water with the law.

See, it’s not just images that you have to properly credit: thoughts, phrases, sentences, data, and sometimes even ideas are copyright protected, as well.

Let’s say, for example, that you use a series of statistics in your next blog post that you found on a website. They’re accurate. They’re powerful. And they perfectly help illustrate your point. You’ve just got to have those statistics in your blog.

If you don’t give the creator proper credit, though, you could be violating some major copyright infringement laws! Those statistics are the result of somebody’s hard work and research–especially if you take them from something like a report or Infograph. So those statistics could very well be copyright protected and you should be treating them as such.

Just like with images, a good policy to follow is to only reference facts, details and ideas that you can properly trace back to the original owner. This way, you can give them public recognition for their work.

Mistake #4 – Not giving guest bloggers a fair shake

Using a guest blogger is another powerful blogging tool. Again, it goes back to the effectiveness of using expert advice and ideas to solidify your point. There’s nothing more humble or appreciated than passing the buck to a counterpart and acknowledging their expertise. It makes both you and your blog more attractive.

There are some rules to follow, however, when including a guest blogger on your site.

  • At the very least, mention their name! If you don’t include the guest bloggers name, then they are no longer a guest blogger; they are a ghost writer. And those are two very different things! If you’ve agreed to a guest blogger, as opposed to a ghostwriter, then you must give them proper credit as the author.
  • If you use guest bloggers often, then it’s wise to establish your policies and procedures surrounding guest bloggers and make sure that all guest bloggers receive a copy. This will eliminate a lot of confusion.

The bottom line with guests bloggers is that, as ‘guests’ not ‘ghosts,’ they not only deserve, but legally are entitled to credit for their contributions. Make sure you give that to them.

Mistake #5 – Misunderstanding ‘Fair Use’

I’ve saved the most complicated for last. (Those other four were just a warm-up!)
‘Fair Use’ is often an unfortunate excuse to use somebody’s work without giving them credit. This probably isn’t intentional it’s just that the concept of ‘fair use’ is so widely misunderstood that it frequently results in freelancers and creatives not getting credit for their work when they should.

Fair Use is the legal concept that, in order to promote creativity and commerce, even copyrighted works can be commented on, reviewed, criticized or researched without providing a full citation. In other words, fair use serves a specific purpose, but there are strict limitations on what is actually fair when it comes to using somebody else’s words.

Let’s say, for example, that you are commenting on a competitors’ post. You don’t agree with their findings, or have a differing opinion about a current news topic, and you want to rebuke their findings in order to make a point about your own opinion. In order to do this, you quote a line or two from their blog. This might actually be considered fair use because you are commenting, not quoting, and therefore wouldn’t have to get permission to reference the material.

Let’s take that same post, now, and say that you’re referencing it as a credible source. You reword an entire paragraph from that post because the thought process was so spot-on. Even though you may have changed a few words, though, it is not fair use, and you’re probably violating their ownership of the work. You should provide a proper citation and link back to the original post.

I know; this sounds gray.

And it is. Just know that ‘fair use’ has severe limitations. If you’re doing more than minimally criticizing, commenting, reporting, or teaching on the material, then it’s safer to consider it an ‘unfair’ use of their work and you need to get permission and/or give them proper credit for it.

What’s the moral of the story here?

Give credit where credit is due. Our system thrives when creativity and commerce meet in the middle and everybody follows the rules. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if none of us were given credit or allowed to profit from our work . . . what a mess. For the sake of your own credibility and for the good of the larger blogging community, learn and follow the basics of copyright law and proper attribution.

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About the Author: Erica Gardner holds a graduate degree in Legal Studies from Kaplan University and served in the Army with the Military Police. She now has a flourishing career writing content for attorneys and entrepreneurs across the globe under her business name, Mission: Marketing, LLC.