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Why People Plagiarize Web Page Content

Don't Violate Copyright


Co-authored by: Elizabeth Weintraub About.com Guide to Home Buying and Selling

Plagiarism and copyright violation is rampant on the Internet, but often it's because the person copying the photo or text doesn't realize that they are breaking the law. Have you ever used one of these excuses to explain why you're copying content that someone else created?

I believe in putting free information on my Web site for my clients to read.

This is an admirable sentiment. In fact, most people who write Web pages believe in making information freely available.

But, freely available doesn't mean free to copy. In fact, unless you received permission to re-post the content, it is protected by copyright. This is whether it's on the Web or anywhere else. Web pages are not automatically public domain.

My interns (employees, contractors, etc) did it last summer.

It's unfortunate that your interns placed copyrighted content on your Web site. But it was placed there without permission, so you should take it down.

I paid somebody to write this for me.

Well, they didn't write it. It's a very popular strategy by less scrupulous or ignorant people to take content that isn't theirs and claim that it is. The fact that you paid someone for the content is something you'll need to take up with that contractor or employee. It might even be justification for a fraud investigation.

But unless you paid the copyright holder to reprint the content, you'll need to remove it.

I didn't publish your entire article, only the parts I liked.

This is a tricky one. If you're only using a small portion of the content, then this could be argued as fair use. But two important things to remember about claiming fair use:

  1. Web pages are short. If you've taken a substantial part of the article, even if it's not all of it, that isn't fair use. A good rule of thumb is 1-2 sentences quoted from a Web page would be fair use - 3 out of 4 paragraphs would not be.
  2. You are admitting guilt. By claiming fair use, you are admitting that you took the content. If you are sued and the judge feels it isn't fair use, you've lost because you admitted infringing.

My Webmaster's mother is dying, and he's too upset to deal with this right now.

Wow, that's too bad. I'm sorry to hear that.

Of course, the content is still stolen, but maybe the jurors at your trial won't be too upset because they couldn't get out of jury duty with the same excuse, and so won't hold it against you.

I complied with ___ law, which says I can copy anything I want off the Internet.

Copyright is both a law on the federal books of the United States, and also a treaty signed by most countries in the world.

While you may be living in a country where copyright is not recognized, if you're using a hosting or blogging service, chances are it's a violation of the Terms and Conditions you agreed to to use the service.

I didn't steal this from you, I got it from another site that stole it from you.

No matter where you got the content, it's still a copyright violation, and you need to take it down or pay for reprint rights.

Oh, and do you have the URL of the site that you stole it from? I want to talk to them, too.

I don't make a lot of money and can't write my own stuff.

So, when a robber breaks into your house and steals your TV, you'll allow him/her to have it when they tell you "I can't afford to buy my own TV." That's very nice of you.

There are ways to get legal and non-infringing free content for your Web site. I would recommend you use one of those methods instead.

I refer readers to your site. Reporting me would be a bad business strategy.

Unless you are Google, your site is not referring enough customers to me to make up for the revenue loss of the copyright infringement. A worse business strategy would be for me to allow my content anywhere anyone wanted to post it. I am paid to write Web content, and protecting that content is an important business tenet.

We're supposed to work together, not attack each other. Why are you complaining?

I'm not attacking you. I'm simply asking that you stop using my content without permission. If you value the content and would like to link to it, that would be wonderful. And if you write useful content that would be of value to my readers, I'll link to you in turn.

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