Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Financial bloggers' posts may violate copyright law

Copyright law isn't on the curriculum of most business schools or for CFP or CFA candidates. So it's not surprising that I've seen well-meaning financial advisors unintentionally violate copyright law in their blogs. 

What NOT to do
You cannot copy someone's entire  newspaper article or  blog post  word-for-word, then make it okay by giving credit to the author. This won't suffice. Not even if you link back to the original article. You are violating copyright law. 

When in doubt, paraphrase
U.S. law allows you to quote part of a written work under the doctrine of fair use, which you can read about on the federal copyright website.

Fair use is a murky concept. "There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work," as it says in the federal government's FAQ on on "How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?"

As the Copyright Office says:
If you use a copyrighted work without authorization, the owner may be entitled to bring an infringement action against you. There are circumstances under the fair use doctrine where a quote or a sample may be used without permission. However, in cases of doubt, the Copyright Office recommends that permission be obtained.
Your safest course is to simply paraphrase or summarize the article that interests you, while also citing the source. It's courteous to provide a link to the article, if it's available online.

Using quotes very selectively will keep you safe, while protecting other authors' copyright.
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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

2 comments:

  1. The link economy seems to be running ahead of this advice (which also aligns with my understanding of copyright law).

    That is, even if you're correct about the legalities, few if any publishers seem inclined to assert their rights against bloggers who republish external articles in full but give credit and link back to the original source.

    That's my boss's view, at least - a former Dow Jones online news executive who I've found has a good feel for trends in the business.

    For my part, I hope your advice prevails: Cutting-and-pasting should not be rewarded nor condoned.

    But it soon may become moot. There is now abundant software out there for automated rewriting of any kind of text. Apparently, its purpose is to sidestep precisely this kind of problem (copyright).

    Basically, the text-cloning programs generate menus of auto-insertable synonyms for any story's main words, phrases and sentence fragments, and give the user a choice of options at each insertion point.

    That makes for bad writing, of course. But this is business, not literature. If people prefer the cheap mass-produced product to the natural or hand-crafted one even when choosing what to put into their own bodies (i.e., food), then it's pretty clear the writer-bots will soon run the flesh-and-blood authors out of town.

    Maybe the subcontinent will delay that process for awhile. I for one would rather be displaced by a human, wherever he's from, than by an algorithm.

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  2. Jon,

    It's interesting--and sad--that your boss agreest that few publishers will fight this.

    If this ever happens to you, you can file a DMCA copyright complaint and get the text taken down. If the text is on a Google blog, they'll take it down for you, as described at http://www.google.com/dmca.html. This worked for me in one case.

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