Among the many ways in which you can create an engaging social media content mix we have frequently included curated content. Curated content is basically content created by others (influencers, scientists, mass media institutions) which is of interest to your followers, is new, exciting, helpful and in line with the current hot topics.
However, there is an aspect which we must discuss today, because it is still murky and unclear for many people: is it legal to share other people’s content? Isn’t that called copyright infringement? This is a complex discussion with many points of view from all the interested parties. Since this is not an intellectual property law blog, we will focus on the aspect which most matters to you, entrepreneurs and marketers. And this aspect is: when is it okay to share content, and when do you risk a copyright infringement lawsuit?
Are You Sharing or Stealing Content?
The rule of the thumb in the sharing vs. stealing debate is this: it always takes more definite and wilful actions to steal content than to share it. When you share it, you click on the Retweet or Share button, according to the social media platform you’re using (one action). When you right click on a photo, save it to your computer and then upload it to your social media page, that’s stealing (and it took you three actions to complete).
When you share by copy/pasting text content, you should also indicate the source (the link) where the original content can be found. This is how you usually prepare your daily or weekly curated content digest. However, even this option is fraught with dangers of being accused of copyright infringement. If you want to stay in the clear and be able to justify your decisions, if necessary, you should understand the full extent of the concept Fair Use.
What Is Fair Use of Content?
The principle of fair use states that you can copy and share someone else’s content if you are using it for one of these purposes: education, personal commentary or criticism. So, if you want to inform your followers that one of the top influencers in your niche issued an opinion and you want to add your own thoughts to it or disagree with it, you can share the original poster’s content. If you want to share the most recent technological development published by a thought leader for educational purposes, you can do that too.
In terms of proving that you are indeed acting in compliance with the fair use principle, you must meet all these conditions cumulatively:
- Purpose and Nature of Use: if you add your own opinion, or you change the shift from the original meaning or purpose of the content you shared, then it may be viewed as fair use. As a simple example, if you share a print screen of the thumbnails displayed by a search engine as part of your argument, the individual copyright holders for the photos will not be able to prove your copyright infringement;
- Nature of Work: did you share a piece of content freely available on the internet, or one communicated privately to you in an email? If you took special steps to obtain the content, then fair use can no longer be invoked. The reasoning behind this is that if you go ahead and share an unpublished or confidential work, the damage done by this public exposure far outweighs the principle of fair use;
- Amount and Substantiality of Portion Used: did you copy the first few paragraphs, or more than half of the article/blog post? If the quantity of text used in your social media post makes it unnecessary for people to click on the attached link to read its full substance, then you have committed copyright infringement;
- Effect of Use upon Market or Value: if the content you shared makes it difficult for the owner to monetise it, then you are not meeting one of the critical criteria for fair use. The effect of free sharing versus marketability of the content is one of the main aspects considered in courts of law when debating such cases.
The best way to protect yourself from copyright infringement lawsuits is to ask for permission for sharing content directly from the copyright holders. Some bloggers will post the rules for sharing on their website (up to X characters/words can be shared freely). When there is no such rule, send an email and ask for permission.
In the case of photos, the situation is more complex. Many photographers make a living from the royalties and licenses paid to them. In such a situation, you should perform your photo searches in Creative Commons – an online organisation where photographers register their work and specify how they can be used and/or modified by others.