How Do We Avoid Copyright Problems?

One of the key social media strategies we've outlined in this book is the creation of blogs, articles, and other content that allows financial professionals to engage with many people at one time. Such writing helps establish your brand as a thought leader, which can deepen relationships with existing clients and help attract outside investors to your business. Financial bloggers, for example, frequently comment on things they see elsewhere on the Internet: an interesting article in a magazine or newspaper website, even a post on another blog.

If you are writing your own content, however, you need to take care. The extent to which you use material from outside sources may cross a line. Replicating other people's material in your own blog requires attention to detail, proportion, and a sense of fairness.

Remember, the content that you read elsewhere on the Internet often is protected by copyright laws. Wholesale duplication of someone else's material without attribution – and sometime even with attribution – is plagiarism.

You can't just cut and paste something from another site, for example, and post it on your own blog. And it's an easy mistake to make if you're not conscious of it while you're writing.


What if you attribute the source of the material and cite where it came from? After all, a key point of blogging is to generate a conversation among like-minded people where ideas are shared, explored, and often criticized, with an eye toward clarifying issues and sometimes reaching consensus. Every day you can find bloggers commenting on developments around the world. What's the harm?

A Quote from U.S. Copyright Office

FIGURE 24.1 A Quote from U.S. Copyright Office

A public interest certainly exists in these kinds of interactions. Nevertheless, limits still exist on how other people's writing may be used toward that end. It's called the concept of fair use, and its aim is to strike a middle ground between free speech and the rights of writers to protect their work from infringement.

The University of Minnesota provides a good breakdown of fair use concepts[1] on one of its websites. Keep in mind that experts say that no one factor can be decisive; all criteria has to be considered. (By the way, the university provides an online tool[2] to help writers evaluate whether using material in a certain fashion violates fair use.)

Here are three key points to keep in mind at the moment you sit down in front of your computer and start crafting your piece based on material that you've read elsewhere. Remember that these are guidelines, and circumstances and context govern whether you've crossed a line (see Figure 24.1):

In what way are you using the material? Commercial and for-profit uses are viewed unfavorably; while not-for-profit purposes, education, scholarship, research, news reporting, criticism, and commentary are generally more acceptable.

■ How much material are you using? One of the standards for measuring whether fair use crosses into infringement is the amount and percentage of the written work that makes its way into your blog. Generally speaking, the less material you use, the less likely you're crossing a line. (But the proportion of what you're using matters, too; it's harder to argue fair use if you're reproducing just a few hundred words of a work that's not much more than that in its complete length.)

What kind of material are you using? Another important fair use concept is how substantial the borrowed material is in relation to the complete written work. Reproducing from the heart of the work, the University of Minnesota says, is more of a problem than reproducing something that's more peripheral within the work.

  • [1] “Understanding Fair Use,” University of Minnesota, Copyright Information and Resources,
  • [2] “Thinking Through Fair Use,” University of Minnesota, Copyright Information and Resources,
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