Copying Other People’s Content Is Illegal, Unethical, and Bad for SEO

Since this issue somehow keeps cropping up, I’m making a post about it. Simply put, contrary to what many believe, it is not okay to copy content from other sites and post it on your own. It isn’t flattering, it isn’t valuable, and it isn’t legal.

The Issue

Online authors such as myself are constantly dealing with the issue of people copying our content to their own sites without permission. There are numerous groups that actively seek out “scrapers” on the internet and work to get our content removed from those sites. Now, scraping is generally used to refer to sites that use software to copy large amounts of content from sites and automatically post it to other sites. However, it is also used to refer to individuals who take content from various sites and post it on their own.

Curating Vs. Copying

Many sites try to claim that they’re simply “curating” content they like, and that authors should be flattered to be included. Curating is collecting interesting things together in a way that provides value to the viewer. Think of Pinterest as a good example. Copying other people’s images or content and pasting it onto another site is not curation. It adds no value and takes away from the original creator. Posting a list of links to content you like, or making a collection on Pinterest is fine, but simply copying content in its entirety is not.
– “Once your excerpts get so long that your reader does not need to click through to the original work, you have crossed a line.Social Fresh

Adding Value or Taking it Away

If you’re copying content from another site to your own, you’re taking profit away from the creator. Even if you’re providing a link back, it’s not likely that people will click it, or that it will provide anything beneficial for the creator. If you like an article or image, write your own piece and talk about it, then provide a link to the original content, without copying it to your site.

It’s on the Internet so It’s Okay

It’s a popular misconception that anything on the internet is free to take and use as you please. That’s simply not true. Once something is posted to the web, it receives copyright and it is legally owned.
– “Material I obtain from the Internet is in the public domain and no permission is required: False. Works protected by copyright are not in the public domain unless the owner explicitly puts them into the public domain, the copyright protection has expired, or the works were created by employees of the federal government.Brigham Young University Copyright Basics

If You Don’t Want it Stolen, Keep it Off the Internet

This is simply absurd. If people took this advice to heart, the internet would be empty. Putting work onto a web site does not give other the right to steal it. The copyright of the creator should always be respected.

The Facts

Once a piece of work is posted online, it is considered to have a copyright. The creator of that work has legal rights and protections. The work, no matter what kind it is, belongs to the creator, and no one has the right to take it without express written permission from that creator.
– “…copyright is granted the moment a piece of work is written, recorded or created. Copyright, unlike trademarks or patents, does not typically need to be formally applied for and is a general right provided by U.S. law to authors of “original works of authorship.”Small Business Administration

It’s a common misconception that educational or non-profit sites have a legal right to take content from other sites and post it on their own. This is simply not true. Copyrights still apply. “Fair Use” does not allow for content to be copied wholesale from one site to another. You can copy a quote or paragraph, but you can’t copy a whole post, piece of music, video or image.
– “Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly
– If a copy, even one on a non-profit or educational site leans too heavily against fair use, their use is then illegal. This includes copying the full work, impairing the original creator’s ability to profit from the work, making copied work the focus of the copying site or work, long time use is desired, and other factors. Brigham Young University Fair Use Checklist

Giving credit to the creator of a work does not protect you from litigation. It may be good enough for some people, but the more you use and the more it impairs the profit or credibility of the creator, the more likely it is that you can or will be sued for your use.
– “Either you have the right to use another author’s material under the fair use rule, or you do not. The fact that you attribute the material to the other author does not change that.Nolo Fair Use Rules

Many have the idea that if they create a new work using copyrighted work, they then own the new work and can use it as they please. This is not true. If you make a movie and use a copyrighted song as the soundtrack, it’s a violation. If you make a slideshow from copyrighted images, it’s a violation. Even using a copyrighted work as a basis for a new work, with your own changes, is a violation if there is enough similarity between the two pieces.
– “U.S. Copyright law is quite explicit that the making of what are called “derivative works” — works based or derived from another copyrighted work — is the exclusive province of the owner of the original work.Templetons Myths About Copyright
– It’s also thought that creating a new format of a work is legal, but it is not. Turning an online article into a PDF, converting a PNG to a JPG, transcribing an audio book, and other such format changes are still copyright violations.

There is the idea that any work that doesn’t prominently display a copyright mark or notices is free to use. This is false. Most copyrights are covered under the Byrne Convention (to which 173 countries belong) and the symbol is not required to prove ownership or to create protection.
-“Some people believe that if a work does not bear a copyright symbol, then that work is not protected by copyright law. This is not true.CopyrightLaws

Sharing the full text of a copyrighted work on social media is a violation just as much as posting it to a web site. People may think that posting the full text of a recipe or article is okay on social media, but it falls under the same legal protections no matter where it’s posted.
– “As the amount of the copyrighted work used increases, the likelihood that the use will constitute a fair use decreases.Lexology

Ethically Speaking…

Copying someone else’s work is simply not an acceptable practice. No matter your intention, in many cases you are likely doing more harm than good to the creator of the work that you’re copying. If you have an extremely high-ranking site, you may be able to provide value to the creator if you link back tot hem, but most likely your copying of their work is going to take viewers and profits away from the creator. If you want to use someone else’s content, always ask first, and accept if they say no or make stipulations on how much content you use, and how you use it. It’s a matter of respect for the creator.

In Regards to SEO

While Google no longer penalizes “duplicate content” they do have rules for dealing with “copied content.” “Google, the almighty search engine, heavily penalizes sites that scrape content. Other search engines like Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, etc. also impose similar penalties… Such penalty will push your website down the search results...” Techwelkin. It is just a bad practice to copy, in its entirety, content from other sites. Not only do search engines frown on it, as mentioned earlier, there are numerous groups dedicated to searching out, litigating against, and shutting down sites that copy other user’s content. This applies to blog posts, images, music, even art they’ve posted to POD sites.

If you want to have a site that’s good for you and your viewers, create and post original content. If you must use the content of others, make sure you have full legal rights to do so. More and more, sites that consist of scraped content are pushed to the bottom of search rankings and get low trust ratings on various sites.

Copying content makes it hard for search engines to determine where trust, authority and other metrics should go. You’re hurting yourself and the work’s creator when you confuse search engines with multiple copies of a work. Moz SEO

The Takeaway…

Copying other people’s content just isn’t a good idea. At the least, you’re going to get lousy search rankings and lose trust from visitors to your site. At worst, you’ll be sued by one or more of the owners of the content you’ve taken. It’s just not worth it. If you enjoy the content of other creators and want to expose your readers to it, write your own post and talk about the content, then link to it. If you want to include most or all of a piece, ask the creator for permission. You can even ask for them to create something just for you, like a custom image or guest blog post. They may be willing, or they may not, but you can ask.

Overall, people need to understand that content on the internet is not free to take and use as you please, even if you’re not profiting from it. We creators have legal rights that need to be respected.

By the way, if you’re a content creator and your work is being stolen, these resources may help: File a DMCA TakedownRemove Copied Content from GoogleCopyscape Plagiarism Checker


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