5 Simple Rules for Reusing Online Content

Recycle ImageOver the past few weeks, I’ve been following and tracking Plagiarism Today’s content more broadly and more carefully than normal.

I’m testing out a new service that’s aimed at bloggers and works to make tracking blog posts much easier online. My research isn’t done yet, so this isn’t a review (that should be coming early next week) but it’s given me a chance to look more broadly at my content, including on posts I hadn’t bothered to track before.

With this even closer-than-normal look, it has become more obvious than ever that, even when people want to use your content in legitimate ways, they often do so in ways that are more harmful than helpful.

On this site, I’m happy to have people reuse my site’s content. I intend this site to be informational and I encourage reuse of my writing as I feel it’s both in my best interest and my readers’ as well. However, through my Creative Commons License, I did ask for two things:

  1. Property Attribution: Including a link back to the original article or to my site.
  2. Share Alike: That any derivative works created using mine be licensed the same way.

Though many reuses of my content might be technical infringements for not completing the Creative Commons License, I try not to target non-spammers who are at least showing good faith in completing it.

Still, there are a few basic things I think anyone reusing content should be willing to do (other than get permission and comply with the license). Some of these might seem like basic things, but I see these rules broken time and time again as I check for my content.

So, with that in mind, here are five basic rules of reusing content that everyone should follow:

1. Make Attribution Clear

There have been many times that I’ve almost marked a site as a plagiarist only to realize, at the last second, that the tiny link at the header or footer was the actual attribution link.

If you’re going to use someone else’s work on your site, it makes sense to make the attribution as clear a possible. This includes clearly stating who wrote it and an obvious link to either the source or the home page of the author.

If you’re going to reuse content legitimately, it’s worth making it clear where it came from.

2. Do Not “Nofollow” Attribution Links

One of the reasons why attribution links are so important is to prevent the search engines from mistakenly indexing and treating the duplicate as being the original. Nofollowing attribution links sabotages that effort.

Likewise, don’t make the attribution link an image. For the search engines, text links are generally much better and more helpful to the original author.

Reducing the effectiveness of the attribution link, even unintentionally, can be seen as a way to avoid giving full credit and full support to the author while also reaping the benefits of the work yourself.

Such actions might not plagiarism or even copyright infringement, but they’re still considered poor form.

3. Name the Author (if Possible)

Though it may seem like the Internet is completely faceless and nameless, it’s important to remember that a real person (or team) created pretty much all of the content you’re reading. It takes only a few seconds in most cases to find a person’s name (or pseudonym) and give credit to them directly as well as their site.

This is becoming increasingly improtant as Google begins to put a greater emphasis on authorship through Google Plus and factor those issues into its results.

Including the author’s name is just another way the search engines, as well as human readers, know who created the content.

4. Separate Original and Reused Content

If you’re going to mix original content with reused content, such as replying to points in an article you’re repurposing, you need to separate the content that yours from the content that came from elsewhere originally.

This can be done many different ways though the easiest, and most common, is to simply quote the unoriginal content using a blockquote tag. However, that might not be practical in all circumstances, as such, you can use horisontal breaks, italics or other visual clues to clearly distinguish what is your from what came from somewhere else.

5. Don’t Hotlink Images

This one seems obvious, but don’t simply copy and paste the HTML and hotlink images off the original server.

First off, in the case of blogs, the permission you receive likely only extends to the text and you may need a separate license for the images regardless. Second, hotlinking uses bandwidth and server resources from the original author, essentially making them pay (in a very small way) for your reuse of their content.

If you want to (and are allowed to) reuse the images, it’s best to either find a site that allows hotlinking or re-host them yourself.

Bottom Line

Obviously, through all of this the most important rule is, if you’re going to reuse content beyond what is a clear fair use, you should get permission from the content creator or copyright holder.

However, with Creative Commons and other open licensing, there’s a lot of great content out there that you can use for free. However, if you choose to use such content, it’s important to not just meet the technical requirements of the license, but to also use it in a way supports the creator of the work.

Reusing content, when done right and with permission, can be a great symbiotic relationship between a creator who gets extra exposure and a webmaster that gets new content. Done poorly, it becomes more parasitic and not only can harm the original creator, but discourages others from making their work available for reuse.

In short, if we want to encourage more creators to make their content available for reuse, it makes sense to treat treat those who do fairly and ensure everyone gets the credit they deserve.