Copyright
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A reader asks: About populating one’s site with third party content

The question

John asks:

“My question is about using third party content in my blog. I see a lot of sites using third party content, such as news, at their own site, by simply adding the source reference and link. What are the conventions in that sense? Are we allowed to use an article from another blog/news site as long as we reference the source of the article?

Most news sites don’t seem to have any warning about that while others clearly state that this practice is forbidden at their site. For instance, I came across one of them that states the following at bottom of articles: “All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.”

Comments

Many thanks for your question John. I assume from your question that, when you talk about using third party content and then adding the source reference and link, you’re talking about reproducing whole articles or at least substantial chunks of articles, together with the reference and link.

In the laws of a large number of countries, or at least those that are signatories to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works or other international copyright treaties, copyright exists in original literary works such as news stories, magazine articles, blog posts and so forth. That copyright confers a bundle of exclusive rights on the author/owner of the work, including the rights to copy it and adapt it. These rights are not affected or diminished by the owner’s publication of the copyright work on the Internet. Publication on the Internet does not throw them into the public domain (in legal terms) and make them a free-for-all.

To answer your question, then, in these countries (which include the United States, European member states, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, among many others), copying all or a substantial part of a copyright work from another site (such as a news site) and reproducing it on your site without permission is an infringement of copyright. The third party site does not have to include terms saying ‘you can’t copy our stuff’. The absence of such a term does not mean anyone can then copy it. The addition of a reference and link back to the source does not make it any better. There are many copyright myths lurking in our urban jungles. One of them is that you can copy someone else’s work or a substantial part of it as long as you attribute them as the source. That’s not the case.

In some countries there are defences to infringement, such as fair use or fair dealing, but that’s a separate issue [update: on this point, see the comments below]. If you simply copy an article lock stock and barrel without permission, and then reproduce it on your own site, those defences usually (if not invariably) won’t save you.

So the bottom line is this: check the terms of use on the website in question. If those terms grant you permission to copy and republish, all well and good (as long as you comply with the licence terms). If they don’t or if they are silent on the point, it’s best to seek permission before copying all or a substantial part of a work, otherwise you could find yourself on the receiving end of a stroppy lawyer’s letter, or worse. That is probably all the more likely if you’re exploiting their content for commercial gain (but you don’t have to be doing that to infringe copyright).

Hope this helps. Thanks again for the question.

9 Comments

  1. Great article, but I do have a few questions. You write “copying all or a substantial part of a copyright work.” What is considered a substantial part? Is it based on a percentage of the whole work itself? When quoting a portion of an article to include in a newly written article, do the same standards apply is properly cited?

    • Hi Adam. Thanks for the questions. I spotted them after answering Michael’s question below. The question of what amounts to a substantial part may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but in a number of common law countries there is no bright dividing line between what’s insubstantial and what’s substantial. There’s certainly no percentage as the courts generally say (at least in countries like the United Kingdom and New Zealand) it’s the quality of what’s taken, not the quantity, that’s relevant. This means the question needs to be assessed on a case by case basis. It’s not always an easy one to answer… . An answer to your second question is in my comments on Michael’s question below. All the best.

  2. I am a bit confused here as in the academic world you can quote articles or other works in your own articles or books if you give appropriate references. If I quote “when you talk about using third party content and then adding the source reference and link, you’re talking about reproducing whole articles or at least substantial chunks of articles, together with the reference and link…” and give a link back to the source which would be your article, how is that different from using this in a scholarly article?

    • Hi Michael. This is a great question, thanks. To answer it, I need to make a couple of points.

      The first point is that, from a copyright perspective, in many countries there’s generally no problem with quoting smallish amounts in comparison to what the law would consider to be a substantial part or all of an article. In these circumstances, you don’t reach the infringement threshold. In my experience it’s unusual, even in academic articles, for long tracts or entire articles to be replicated. Indeed, I suspect many academics would frown at that.

      The second point is that, depending on the context in which you’re using the third party content, there may be a defence to what would otherwise be an infringement if the conduct falls within a permitted act or defence provision in your applicable copyright law. So, for example, section 30 of the United Kingdom’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and section 42 of New Zealand’s Copyright Act 1994 allow ‘fair dealing with a work for the purposes of criticism or review’ as long you include a sufficient acknowledgement. Section 30(1) of the UK law puts it in these terms:

      “(1) Fair dealing with a work for the purpose of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement and provided that the work has been made available to the public.”

      Section 42(1) of the NZ law is very similar:

      “(1) Fair dealing with a work for the purposes of criticism or review, of that or another work or of a performance of a work, does not infringe copyright in the work if such fair dealing is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement.”

      The United States has a “fair use” defence which is generally broader than the fair dealing defences in other countries. It’s in 17 U.S. Code § 107:

      Ҥ 107 . Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

      Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A [which relate to exclusive rights in copyright works and rights of certain authors to attribution and integrity], the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

      (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

      (2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

      (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

      (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

      The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”

      I hope this helps. Thanks again for the question as it enabled me to make a couple of additional relevant points.

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  4. Thanks a lot for this. Quite interesting but also confusing.
    Because the internet is full of articles taken from other sources – themselves not always being the original ones. Furthermore, there are a lot of sites that have precisely this model – sharing articles from third party sources – as core business model.

    So, in that case, what is the legality of using of plugins such as “RSS Multi Importer” that are specifically designed for such purpose (“Create blog posts ‘AutoPost’ from the feed items so readers can comment on them”)?

    And what about the “share” buttons you find all over the web and news articles in particular? Sharing means reproducing. Is this an invitation to brake the law or does this simply imply that the content that is “sharable” is also free to being reproduced elsewhere?

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  6. Hi John. You’re right that the Internet is full of articles taken from other sources. Indeed, the Internet is the world’s largest copying machine. Sometimes people are happy for their articles to be copied and shared, sometimes not. Sometimes they’ll expressly allow it (in which case everything is fine) but other times they’ll prohibit it or be silent on it.

    Sites whose business models depend on copying and publishing articles wholesale from other sites will either want to have the content authors’ permission (which they often do, particularly where the content is author-submitted) or be happy to run the risk of copyright infringement.

    Of course, the fact that a person’s copyright has been infringed doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll either know about it or, if they do know, do anything about it. Sometimes it’s just not worth the hassle.

    I’m planning to write a distinct post on the use of RSS importing and parsing tools. These sorts of tools can be used for both good and not-so-good purposes. Sometimes their use will be perfectly OK; other times their use might result in repeated copyright infringement. It all depends on the circumstances, such as whether the feed publishers are OK with republication and how much of the feed content is taken.

    As for the share buttons that are everywhere these days, it’s unusual for these buttons to automatically copy the entirety of an article. It’s more common for them to copy the title, perhaps an excerpt, and a link back to the source site. This is usually all fine and – importantly – where a site owner uses these sorts of tools they’re expressly or impliedly consenting to republication of the content to the extent that the share button naturally allows; often this will be quite different to wholesale copying of an entire article.

    Hope this helps.

  7. Many thanks for clarifying!
    Yes, I now better understand how this is supposed to work and also the importance of how much of third party content you’re actually publishing.
    Looking forward to your article about RSS importing and parsing tools!

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