A Call to Internet Marketers: Stop Stealing Content

Written by and published

Internet marketers, we need to talk…

For as long as I can remember, we’ve been telling people “content is king” and to “create amazing content.” We’re now in the age of “content marketing” (which is just yet another re-branding of established marketing strategies) and countless blog posts, articles and presentations urge the audience to invest in creating high quality content.

Don’t get me wrong – by and large, an increased focus on content quality is a positive development.

But if we’re going to preach the value of content, we sure as hell had better address our hypocrisy on the subject as well.

Thankfully, the solution is fairly simple:

  • Stop republishing large chunks of another site’s article or blog post.
  • Stop grabbing the first image you come across in Google Image search to use in your blog post.
  • Stop thinking a line of text or a link for attribution somehow makes your infringement acceptable.

And stop acting like it’s no big deal when this sort of thing happens.

If anyone can appreciate how much time and effort goes into creating quality content, it should be an industry of content producers. So why are Internet marketers some of the worst offenders when it comes to copyright infringement?

Look, I understand copyright law is complicated and can be tricky to understand. What does and doesn’t count as fair use seems to change depending on which expert you talk to. And we all make mistakes, myself included.

But the infringement happening consistently in our space is rarely, if ever, about these edge cases. Instead it’s someone swiping an image for use in a blog post or presentation, or a million-dollar company using a photograph it lacks the rights to on its home page.

It’s pure laziness.

We all know better, so STOP DOING IT!

When You Get Caught

I get it; we all make mistakes from time to time. I’ve used an image from Flickr that was marked as Creative Commons only to find out the person who uploaded the image actually swiped it from someone else. (Pro tip: run any image you use through TinEye or Google image search before using it to help avoid those kinds of situations.)

But if/when you are alerted that you have violated someone’s copyright, be apologetic and polite. You’re the one that has done something wrong here. Not the person whose content you’ve stolen.

No Big Deal?

While many content creators don’t care to protect or police their copyright, others do. I can tell you from experience that policing the use of even one moderately popular image can be a full-time job. Chances are, your infringement isn’t the first instance they’ve had to deal with, and after sending the 100th email asking folks to remove the image or pay a licensing fee, it gets a bit old.

So when you try to dismiss your infringement, whatever it may be, as no big deal, it’s insulting. Mostly because you’re right; it’s no big deal. It also not hard to ask permission to use someone’s content.

I’ve sent dozens of emails asking for permission to use images (for some reason this is a bigger problem with images than printed content, but the point remains) and I have only once been denied.

Content creators generally want their work to be used, spread and appreciated. But when you can’t be bothered to take a few minutes to ask permission, you’re silently communicating that you don’t value the time and effort they put into that piece of content.

Infringement Can Be Expensive

The penalties for copyright infringement can really expensive – as in, up to $150,000 expensive. No, seriously – look it up.

I am not a lawyer and I’ve never taken a copyright case to court, so I don’t know exactly what has to be proven to get penalties like that, but those are some scary numbers. Hell, there’s even a legal service that will pursue infringement cases for 50% of the winnings.

So if someone only asks for a link, consider yourself lucky. I’d be sending you a bill.

  • Great post, been trying to make this point to my fellow marketers for years but it always falls on deaf ears. Another point worth mentioning, even if you use a Flickr photo with an appropriate license, the owner of the photo can change that license at any time.

  • And if you want to share an article that’s basically a rewritten / souped up / stolen version of another article, share the original source link. Folks are nice enough to include it now — even when they’re lifting 75% of an article!

  • Nice start. BUT, when the system falls down and despite following rules we suffer anyway, these suggestions fail to be fair.

    1. User uploads illegal copy of an image to a stock photo site, and asserts it can be used.
    2. Copyright owner doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.
    3. YOU pay stock photo service to use image, and use it. TOS made you assume all responsibility for your own use.
    4. Owner sees YOU use it, sues you for infringement; gets default judgement (no trial). You owe $60,000 or can hire a lawyer for $5000 down and $300/hour to challenge and demand a trial, or you can settle for an easy $3000 check (by tomorrow).

    With a system that works that way, following the rules is not adequate fairness.

    Instead of advocating that fair minded people lose to competitors like BuzzFeed who take risks and have lawyers, why not advocate to fix the system?

    For example, if every player who touched that aforementioned image was assigned a % of total responsibility for the infringement (instead of passing liability around through indemnities and TOS crap), the whole system would tune up.

  • Simon Heseltine

    Every time i see someone embed a Dilbert cartoon… They have a very explicit page on usage and fees on their site.