Nothing But The Ruth!
Using Other Lawyers’ Content on Your Blog: Rein It In
When you like my blog work, I’m pleased. When you link to my site, I’m flattered. When you request a reprint, I’m delighted. When you rip off my work, even with an attribution, I get pissed!
The goal of any blogger should be the same as any content creator — to provide value to readers in terms of information or entertainment. I can’t emphasize enough the value of sharing original source material with your audience, as well as providing the back story or explaining why something is relevant to readers. Effective blogging isn’t just about sharing the “what” but also the “why.” And whenever possible, you should incorporate storytelling because readers remember stories better than lessons alone.
Each Post Should Be the Beginning of a Conversation
This is why you should never copy and paste a full article or a significant portion of an article to your blog. Copying just the pertinent portion and adding your own commentary is a more successful strategy. When you adopt the former approach, you risk committing copyright infringement and looking like a thoughtless jerk who uses others’ content to get hits on their site.
I’ve had my work ripped off a few times — but, honestly, I find it shocking when another member of the legal community rips off one of my posts for their blog. Here’s what happened recently.
I monitor my website analytics so I can see how people are getting to my site. When someone links to my site and a reader clicks on that link, my site analytics show it and I follow it back to see whether the author wrote about a topic I’ve written on, wrote about me as a person, or both. A few weeks ago, I saw some unfamiliar links to some legal websites in my analytics, so as always, I followed them to investigate. It turned out a blogger wrote a post that basically said, “Ruth wrote an awesome blog post about [Topic X]. Here are the pertinent paragraphs,” and then copied and pasted five of the seven paragraphs of the post. And that’s it. He didn’t add a single original thought.
When I saw this, I had two thoughts:
- WTF, dude? You stole my work.
- I really wanted to hear your thoughts on this issue.
In the legal community, I’m a fairly prolific writer (and hopefully holding my own with my peers). But I know I’m also the newer kid on the block. I enjoy discussing the practice of law with people who have been around the block a lot longer than me to hear how their perspective differs, based on their experience. So I saw this blog post as a missed opportunity for discourse.
I looked up the blogger and called him. I granted him a license after the fact to use my post on his site and, more importantly, I shared my disappointment with him.
One of the purposes of blogging is to create a forum for interacting with each other. Each post is the beginning of a conversation, not the end. I think a post’s maximum value is achieved when ideas are discussed. I always get value out of being part of the conversation, and I know readers get value from watching knowledgeable people discuss and debate issues.
So the Moral of This Story?
Don’t rip off your fellow bloggers work by copying and pasting their content wholesale. Even if you give them an attribution, you may still be committing copyright infringement (not to mention telling them about it). Instead, keep the conversation going by adding your original thoughts to what they wrote. Better yet, write the post and send them an email about it to invite them to add their comments to the conversation so your readers can benefit from two minds discussing the issue instead of just one.
Ruth Carter is a lawyer, writer and speaker. Her law practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Ruth’s new ABA book, The Legal Sidce of Blogging for Lawyers launches this month. She is also the author of the ABA book Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans, as well as The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or Killed. In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new practice. Follow her on Twitter @rbcarter.
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