An article from this blog was recently reprinted in an email newsletter and on a website without my permission and without a link back to this blog. The same thing has happened recently to a handful of blogging colleagues. Is that fair use or content theft? When and how is it OK to reprint information from blogs in your own newsletters, blogs, and websites?

The Arguments For and Against Copying Full Posts

Note: I am not talking about excerpting small sections of posts for discussion purposes; I’m talking about reprinting the entire piece as content on a website, etc.

Some will argue that content distributed in the blogosphere is different than material printed in other forms, like printed books or even websites. People who wouldn’t normally copy and reprint articles from those sources will copy and paste off of blogs willy-nilly. They seem to justify this behavior in one of two ways.

Their Argument: It’s the nature of the blogosphere. Blogs are the Wild West and anything goes. The normal rules of engagement don’t apply. Blogging is all about the decentralization and free-wheeling distribution of information and republishing posts is simply part of the culture.

My Response: In addition to being decentralized and free-wheeling, blogging is also highly personal. The journal format demands a first-person writing style. When you copy my content, you are getting more than words – you are also getting some of the personality that comes along with it. When you reprint full blog posts without permission and pass them off as original content for your newsletter or website, without ample credit and links back, it’s a form of identity theft. Instead of using my credit score, you are using my reputation.

Their Argument: If you use RSS, you want people to republish your posts. RSS means Real Simple Syndication. If you use it to distribute content from your blog, as nearly all bloggers do, that means you want people to have a real simple way to publish your content in other venues, just like all those national columnists who write articles that are then published in hundreds of newspapers across the U.S.

My Response: This line of reasoning is absurd. The method I choose to distribute articles to my readers, whether it be print newsletters, private email, RSS, FedEx, or carrier pigeon, does not affect my copyright. I wrote it; I own it. End of story. And let’s not forget, those syndicated columnists are paid for their work, and the more popular their columns are, the more they get paid.

To answer the question I posed at the top, reprinting entire posts without permission and proper attribution and links is content theft and a copyright violation. It’s a way to add quality content to your site without working or paying for it, but it’s also lazy and, I believe, illegal.

So what’s the right way to reuse someone’s blog post?

Coming Tomorrow: The Right Ways to Republish RSS and Reprint Blog Posts (Part 2)

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