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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.”


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.


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