Fair Use Content: What’s Fair, What’s Not?

Clients often ask us for content advice when setting up their sites. One of the questions that comes up the most involves use of external content. First they want to know how much of the better industry content that’s out there they can safely repurpose without copyright violation. Then they want to know what are the best practices for doing so.

But first a little background. Generally speaking, the best possible content you can feature on your website is original content. Both visitors to your site and Google love fresh, interesting and informative articles that speak to them directly about solving business problems. Whether web pages or blog posts, original content is far superior to anything else you can find on the web and re-post on your own site. That said, companies that are attuned to an industry niche are frequently in a good position to curate the best content for others.

The “fair use” question usually arises when it comes time to build the News section for a site. For clients that are well established and generating their own interest with the media, the News section is rarely a problem. They can easily quote from their own press releases and link to stories in the media that are about them. For startups or smaller companies that are infrequently mentioned by others, creating and maintaining viable News is more problematic. That’s when the temptation emerges to copy and paste the articles into their sites.

We understand the temptation, but always caution our clients to not go there. Wholesale copying of large blocks of text, even when attribution is included, is widely regarded as violation of U.S. law. The law is somewhat murky but the the U.S. Copyright Office interprets it thus:

Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. 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.

So based on this interpretation, is there any way for a small marketing department to legally leverage relevant industry content without putting their companies at risk? A good best practice that works for many of our smaller clients is to publish only the headline and first two or three sentences of the article of interest. Include the day, year and publication name of the article in question and be sure to link to the full text of the article on the publication’s website. Doing so avoids copyright violation, provides your readers with valuable content they might otherwise miss, and helps to generate more web traffic to the publication’s site all at the same time.

A good example is how our latest client, McNulty and Associates, handles News content here.

Until next time. . .