3 Content Copyright Rules You Need To Know

As a professional writer and social media manager I publish a lot of content on the internet. Great content makes the marketing world go round but did you know there are actually rules to adhere to? I’m not talking now about SEO or optimization rules but about the actual copyright rules. In this article I’m going to tell you 3 Content Copyright Rules You Need To Know to avoid landing yourself or your brand in a whole world of trouble.

Firstly it is important to understand the “fair use term which is cited in the Copyright Act of 1976. Fair Use basically defines the different circumstances in which it may be ok to copy and duplicate content. This section can be summarized by the following four points:

  1. Is the content being used for commercial, nonprofit or educational use?
  2. How much of the content is being copied? (note there is no exact acceptable percentage)
  3. What type of content is being copied?
  4. Will the copying of the work impact on the value or reputation of the original?

The other point to absorb here is whether the work is in fact copyrighted or whether it falls into the public domain. Content that falls into the “public domain” category could be the written laws of a country for example or public economic statistics.

So, now we have established the basics, let’s take a look at the 3 copyright rules you need to know:

#1 Remember To Cite Quotes

It is important to understand when you need to cite quotes and when you don’t. A citation is a mention of the original report or author to acknowledge that the words you are using do not belong to you. Citations also show that you have researched your topic and that the information you have provided is legitimate.

EG: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Steve Jobs

When To Cite

  • Whenever you paraphrase
  • When you use another person’s quote
  • If you are talking about someone’s work

When Not To Cite

  • When information is common knowledge- eg a new public law that is passed
  • If your article bears no resemblance to the places where you researched it
  • If you are writing an idea entirely in your own words

Failure to cite another person’s work is dishonest and could land you in trouble with the original author or their descendants. There is a potential prison term and certainly a monetary repercussion for serious plagiarism although this is usually more commonplace amongst big brands. For more information read the great advice over at www.plagiarism.org

#2 Self Plagiarism IS A Thing

Yep, sounds strange right? But when it comes to publishing an article, self-plagiarism exists especially if you are a freelance writer who is selling his work. For example… if I sell an article and its rights to Brand X then it is not ok to copy it onto my own website… even if Brand X say it’s ok. This is because, firstly, the writing now belongs to Brand X but secondly and more importantly it is published on their site and it is not ok to copy it for SEO and copyright reasons.

You can get around this issue by using a canonical link element which effectively specifies Brand X as the important and original source of the work. Introduced in 2006, rel=canonical was created to differentiate between the importance of online pages. In the fun (yawn) coding area of your website it would therefore look like this:

Here’s my original  article


Here’s my canonical tag


For more information on canonical tags and how to use them check out google web master central

An easier way to share the work is by using social media sharing which automatically acknowledges the location and credits for the work and is therefore a totally legal form of sharing. Of course, the right to say “I wrote this” is between you and your contractor… don’t assume it’s ok!

#3 Copyright In Numbers

Whilst content copyright rules can be perceived as somewhat vague, there are some numbers you should remember.

  • 70 years is the standard period of time that an original piece of work is protected for (unless extended)
  • 10% rule is a myth – if you change a piece of work by 10% you are not “ok” under copyright rules
  • 100% of all emails are copyright the moment you hit send
  • 4 is the number of copyright law revisions made (1831, 1870, 1909 and 1976)
  • 1991 the year that pop hit “Ice Ice Baby” ran into legal trouble with David Bowie and Queen
  • $1.3 billion is the amount SAP was ordered to pay Oracle for copyright infringement

Before I go, here are a few more content copyright facts for you to digest…

  • Some organisations are more aggressive than others when it comes to adhering to copyright regulations. Some notably aggressive brands include Walt Disney, LionsGate and Walmart who have all actively pursued numerous court cases against offenders… basically don’t copy their work!
  • You do not need to place a copyright symbol next to your published content or image to be protected however it is easier to seek compensation later if you do.
  • You can’t copyright an idea, however good it is. You can however copyright the physical production of that idea.
  • If you are working for an employer then everything you produce in that time legally belongs to them.

Remember that I’m not a lawyer so if you are a brand needing copyright clarification you should probably seek legal advice. Did you find my article useful? I would love to hear about your copyright experiences so tweet me @Charli_Says