In the age of content marketing we’re all writers and publishers but is the information explosion coming at the expense of copyright?

I’m no stranger to vanity-googling my name from time to time but I rarely google my work. However, recently I was researching an article and remembered that I’d written something on a similar topic for a client. So I googled a distinctive sentence from that article to find the published version. And I was surprised at what I discovered…

While I’d been commissioned to write that earlier article for just one business, it turned out that several other unrelated businesses had also published it too. They just hadn’t sought permission to do so, hadn’t credited me as the author and hadn’t referenced or linked back to the original article.

So I searched key phrases from other articles I’d written to see if it was anomaly. Every time I came up with pretty much the same thing.

Some articles had big chunks reproduced word-for-word in someone else’s article with no reference. One article had been reproduced in full in no less than five different places – but virtually none of these credited the website where the article had originally been published.

The ones that really drove me crazy were those that passed my work of as their own: crediting someone from their own company as the author.

I contacted some, pointing out that publishing an article with someone else’s name at the top it was not only misleading, it also violated copyright law.

Most seemed surprised. They couldn’t see what was wrong with what they were doing.

Obviously it’s great publicity and a huge compliment to have your work reproduced. But if someone does this without seeking permission and giving proper credit, it’s actually illegal, not to mention unethical.

What is copyright?

Copyright is the real world legal version of that rule we had drummed into us at school and university: don’t copy someone else’s work – it’s plagiarism.

It’s not just a form of theft, it’s also a messy morally and ethically charged subject,that keeps hordes of lawyers busy.

While copyright laws differ around the world, when your work is produced here it’s subject to Australian copyright laws.

In the case of content marketing, an entire website cannot be protected by copyright; however, the individual components it is made up of are protected: the text, images, audio, video, etc.

At the moment, copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years (but this may soon change), and there is no need to register for copyright protection: it’s automatic. Copyright can be owned by someone other than the creator (eg: the publisher or an employer). Even so, the writer still owns the moral rights to the work (the right to be credited as a creator).

In the online age, infringing copyright seems to have become routine. Anyone can cut, copy and paste someone else’s work and pass it off as their own – or simply forget to say where they got it from.

The flipside is that although it may be happening more often, it’s also far easier to find. You simply need a search engine.

So if you are one of the growing number of writers and publishers, it pays to know where you stand…

Are blogging platforms part of the problem?

Blogging and social media platforms encourage people to write without telling them anything about their obligations under copyright law. How often do you see someone taking advantage of this to reproduce an entire work, conveniently adding their own call to action at the end of someone else’s work?

But the Copyright Agency says it is watching and, as SmartCompany reported, they’ve started issuing fines to businesses – big and small – that infringe copyright laws.

The bottom line is that if you publish work of any kind that is not your own, you need to seek permission. And you need to clearly attribute both the author and original source. There are exceptions for things like criticism, reporting news, if copyright has expired, or if you’re not using a substantial part of the work.

What does the copyright future hold?

While we’re talking about tiny little pieces of content marketing, like blogs and articles, creative people of all kinds – authors, playwrights, artists and even musicians – rely on copyright in order to be recompensed and acknowledged for their labours.

When Prince died earlier this year I tried to search for my favourite music video to post to social media. Strangely I couldn’t find a thing on the internet: not on YouTube, Vimeo or anywhere. So I searched for more popular, and also more obscure Prince songs. Still nothing. Nothing on Spotify either.

Prince guarded his Intellectual Property like no one else and kept the lawyers busy fighting everything he saw as a copyright infringement.

So as companies – and individuals – become publishers, should they be acting like traditional publishers when it comes to protecting their Intellectual Property?

And what does it mean for writers – what processes are in place to protect, acknowledge and recompense them for their efforts?

The end of copyright?

Without getting too political, The Guardian recently ran Richard Flanagan’s impassioned speech for the Government to drop its plans to reduce the length of time a book author holds rights in their work. As he explains, an author would not have any rights in their work 15 to 25 years after it’s first published:

“So Mem Fox has no rights in Possum Magic. Stephanie Alexander has no rights in A Cook’s Companion… Nor Peter Carey to The Kelly Gang, nor Tim Winton to Cloudstreet. Anyone can make money from these books except the one who wrote it.”

And Kim Williams recently argued in the Sydney Morning Herald that the proposed new copyright recommendations could crush Australian content of all kinds and be detrimental to creativity:

“In the creative landscape, the bedrock of production is copyright – the Copyright Act provides the critical framework for ensuring returns from investment.”

It’s an issue close to our hearts, because if this did go through, Antelope Media’s Ralph Grayden would lose the rights to his own novel, Page Three, in just a few more years.

It hardly seems fair. In an environment where everything is up for grabs, who’d bother producing anything it all?

What bloggers and content marketers need to know about copyright

If you want to know more about your copyright rights and obligations the fact sheet from the Australian Copyright Council on Websites and Copyright is a good starting point.

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