These days, lots of people need to know how to share content.
Most often it’s because they are creating and running websites and social media platforms for their businesses. So they want to put content out to keep readers interested. But many people are breaching copyright without knowing it.
I understand why this is. I’ve been involved in information and publishing for more than two decades. And things have changed faster than we can keep up. Now, almost anyone can create a website and social media platforms. But not everyone has learned how to do this well. Not everyone understands how to share others’ work properly. And by ‘properly’, I mean legally, fairly and in a way that promotes your work and brand rather than detracting from it.
I’ve written this post to help with that, and we’ve now updated it to give more detail, answer some FAQs and share some examples of colleagues’ experiences with this.
Rules, ethics and being friendly
When it comes to content that someone has written, there are rules. And laws. And ethics. To put it nicely, there are friendly ways to share and less friendly ways to share. But the darker side of that is: if you don’t get it right, you can find yourself at the wrong end of legal action.
In my experience, most of the people who share things the not-so-friendly way are lovely people who are doing so innocently. They are trying to get to grips with setting up and running their business. And no-one has taught them about this. Certainly not the companies who tell you that you can have a website or platform up in five minutes. But there are rules and ethics, and this is an important skill set to learn. So buckle in for lots of info that I hope will help.
Sharing blog posts on social media…
Let’s start with social media. Most of us are already used to sharing links and pictures and other content on social media. It’s great to share blog posts and other content on Facebook, Instagram or to retweet something. I imagine that, like me, you consume information like this every day. You see something interesting on Facebook, for instance. You click the link, and it takes you back to the original website or blog. You can then read what the author has to say in full. Maybe you’ll find it interesting and you’ll look further into their work, or maybe you’ll head straight back to Facebook. It’s up to you, the reader.
And now let me explain how that works for me, as the creator of the content.
I write a blog post (like this one) and I share my blog post on my Facebook page. People who like my page or see that content can share it with their friends. Awesome. That’s very likely to be the way you came to be reading this blog post today. One of your friends or colleagues saw it, or perhaps someone whose business you use. They clicked and visited my website. Some clicked straight back to Facebook or onto the next thing. No worries. I’m not for everybody. None of us are. But others, well maybe they will look at more of my content. Maybe they like what I do enough to bookmark me, or sign up to my newsletter. Maybe that means that, one day down the line, they’ll buy one of my books or come to see me speak. Or they might decide to take an online course with me. And I, the website owner who creates content, am happy with that, thank you. My content supports me to make a living and keep creating new content.
When it works well, I’m delighted – like most content creators – when people share my blog posts and the things I put on social media. It brings more people to read my stuff. At the end of the day, most people who create content want people to read what they create. Sharing posts on social media is great for that. As long as you credit the original person or page and include the original link, then you can’t go too far wrong. Everyone’s happy.
Share and repost, don’t copy and paste
But this only works if you share, retweet or repost, which ensures that you keep the link to the original. Add your own thoughts, by all means, but leave the original attribution. Make sure you signpost the way to the creator’s content, so that others can visit the original. Don’t steal it, even by accident.
If you copy and paste the content onto your own website or social media account, you might have removed the link to the original. At best, that’s unfair. At worst, you’ve broken copyright law. It’s a subtle difference, but there’s an easy take home message here, for when it’s social media content: share and repost: don’t copy and paste.
Many people who have public pages (unless they state otherwise, so check) are happy for you to share/repost. With facebook, you can do it directly. The Instagram ‘get repost’ app is great too. It even prompts you to add the original author’s tag onto the photo. Do that. And you can copy their text into your post, which will then be credited to them.
Remember that they deserve and are entitled to keep the credit. They did the work. They own it. If you don’t share in this way, it can look like you’re stealing their work and passing it off as your own. You might not intend that, but that’s how it can look. Also remember that other people may share or repost from your page, site or feed, so be generous in your credit to the original author. People will see your generosity and it will be more likely to want them to look at you too.
Do also take a moment to make sure that you are crediting the correct original author. The person who you are sharing/reposting from may have copied and pasted themselves, plagiarised the original author or not properly tagged their work. I know it’s not always possible to know for sure, but if you’re reposting people who are in your field, you’ll soon get a sense of whether someone is posting original work or taking from others.
It takes just a couple of minutes to ensure that you give credit correctly, and it’s worth it. You’ll become known as someone who is generous and who has integrity. Not as someone who takes others’ work – even by accident – and makes it look as if it’s their own. You can be sure that, if a person or organisation is in the habit of using someone else’s content without permission, people notice.
When you can’t share content
The content of blog posts and other written, filmed or recorded material (like book pages, course content and so on) is covered under copyright law. Many authors and creators – like me – will have a copyright notice on their website, books and courses. You can see my website copyright notice on every page on my site. As you can see from my notice, I’m happy for people to share links and short (one or two line) excerpts from my posts, as long as they link back with credit. In fact, offering good information that others can link to is the very point of making a website like mine.
But that doesn’t mean that other people are allowed to come along and copy and paste the whole of one of my blog posts onto their website or into another format, such as an article or book. In fact, copyright law means it’s illegal to do that. Such a practice is also seen as unfriendly because it means that the new website is potentially taking traffic away from the author of the content.
This is a great (and short) video from the Authors’ Licensing and Collection Society (which I am a member of) which explains copyright in really simple terms:
How to take care with books
Books, courses and photos are situations where you really need to take care. Let’s start with books.
I see, for instance, many pictures where people have photographed the page from inside a book and then shared that.
Well, I’m happy you’ve benefited from the content, but it’s not usually legal to photograph and share the text of a book publicly. If you’re tempted to do that, have a look inside the cover. If there’s a copyright notice, you can check it to see whether reproducing the content is legal or not. If it isn’t, or if you’re unsure, don’t do it. You can sometimes photocopy something for personal use, but that doesn’t mean you can put it on your tiles. It’s not yours to share.
That’s not to say you can’t tell the world that you love a book, of course! Authors and publishers are delighted when someone takes a picture of the cover, or of themselves (or their cat) holding the actual book. Especially when you post it with a line which says how much you’re enjoying it. In fact, I’ll often share or repost those when I see them (once I’ve asked for permission of course). More on that below.
Authors and publishers don’t love it when you post pictures or chunks of the inside content that they have worked hard to create, though. That’s how they make their living. In fact, if you like an author and want them to write more books, the last thing you should be doing is giving away their work for free. This also includes writing and sharing summaries of a book, course or study day that you’ve enjoyed. Or sharing content from a course, but we’ll come back to that as well. You don’t own that content, and it’s likely protected by copyright.
Also take care when using photos that you have found online for your website or blog. There are sites which have free photos that you can use. You just need to get informed about what you can and cannot do. Again, someone has worked hard to create it, and photos, diagrams and illustrations may be protected by copyright. Be very careful before using a search engine to fins photos for your blog posts or for sharing on your site or social media, because the owner or publisher may have a right to sue you. Some publishers have entire departments set up to look for copyright violations, and I know several people who have experienced the nasty surprise of a copyright violation letter and then had to spend time and money rectifying their mistake. In fact, it was because people were receiving copyright violation letters and asking for information that I originally wrote this post. This stuff isn’t taught on many courses, so you need to educate yourself. Ignorance isn’t a legal defence.
Sharing course content
With live or online courses, it’s totally fine (and, indeed, the point of the course) that you take forth what you’ve learned and share it with clients. If you’ve been to a course to learn resuscitation then you can rest assured that the course leaders WANT you to go out and use what you’ve learned, should the opportunity arise.
Will the same course leaders be pleased if they find that someone has taken their course outline and materials and set themselves up in the building next door to teach the same course? Well unless that was their specific intention, probably not. They’ve invested the time and it’s their content. The skills and knowledge that you’ve learned from them are now yours. The course materials, structure, videos, podcasts and everything else they’ve created? They still own those.
Here’s another example, which I use in my courses.
You may have looked at a research study in one my my online courses and now you want to write about it in a blog post in your own words. Great! Just check that you are only citing as much of the original as you are allowed under “fair use” (usually 10% of academic articles). That’s not for my sake, but for the sake of the original authors of the research study.
You also might want to cite something that you learned about the study on the course. Like, for instance, that one of the issues is that loads of women declined to enter the study, which raises important questions about the validity of the results. That’s usually okay as long as it’s just one or two points and you give the creator credit and ideally a link back to their website and/or course. In fact, sharing what you’ve learned in the course in your work is exactly the point of many courses.
You can also make records or notes for private use.
“In our courses, many participants will make index cards or notes and share details of individual studies or ideas in their classes with parents and that’s brilliant. That’s what we’re here for, and we encourage that!”
But what you can’t legally do is to share the course materials themselves, or (unless this is the explicit aim of the course, as with cascade learning) use the course materials (powerpoints, videos) to teach the material yourself.
As with books, this may be how someone is making their living. Not only do you not have the right to share their stuff for free, you may be directly harming their ability to feed their family. Always be extra careful with content that is in courses or other materials that you (or your employer) have paid for. But that doesn’t mean that ‘free’ courses are fair game either. Many people use free courses to promote their paid work. Always check the copyright notice. If it’s creative commons or open access, then great. But if it’s copyright, then it’s not yours to share.
Let’s look at another example from a course creator colleague:
“When people tweet or gram a picture of themselves or their laptop, cat and cup of tea and say they’re loving my course, that’s lovely and I’m likely to re-share. If the laptop screen shows a key slide, or something that I’ve worked hard to create and am charging to access, well then my heart sinks. Because now I have to decide what to do about the copyright violation.”
So what’s not cool?
So you might not think of doing the following things but, as some people like to have concrete examples to illustrate where the boundary lies, these are things that infringe copyright when you are taking courses, especially online:
– Taking a screen shot of someone’s slides or other teaching materials or copying any of the course content and sharing it with friends/colleagues, on social media or using it in teaching.
– Sharing copyright content with colleagues or students who aren’t registered on the course, which includes password sharing (which most courses have software to detect these days), inviting others to watch your screen (kids not included!), sharing handouts or written materials which were just for course participants or trying to record videos, podcasts or other copyright materials.
– Using the content in a course to create materials to share with colleagues or students for another course or on a website/book/social platform. That also includes rewording/summarising a chunk of content that came from a course and sharing it, even if you attribute it to the creator. But this is a tricky one to understand, so let’s look at a couple of examples that I have used to explain this when people ask about this in my online courses.
1) Writing a blog post discussing one or two studies and sharing your own reflections which are somewhat different from the course creator’s, and including a link back to the creator’s work and a recommendation to do their course = fair use.
2) Writing a blog post called something like, “the 7 pregnancy-related studies that Sara Wickham highlighted in Gathering in the Knowledge 2021”, or “the five key points that Sara Wickham shared about the Big Babies debate” = not fair use.
In another example of what not to do:
“Someone once came to a workshop I did at a conference (in the days when such things were live events), and then next week they published a blog post which was basically a typed up transcript of that workshop. They had used shorthand to write down everything I said and then shared it publicly “for the benefit of others who hadn’t attended.” But I hadn’t consented to that, and that did directly harm my income and ability to teach that workshop again. We got that taken down really quickly! But sadly not before it had been copied by an educator in a Trust who then cancelled their booking to have me teach the same workshop to all their midwives and doctors. She taught it herself, using the key points and references that this person had shared.”
What about sharing quotes from books?
The same sort of issues apply to books, and I’ve added this section to the blog post to give a bit more detail about this.
You can legally quote a line or paragraph from a book or article, and include the citation. If you do that online, it’s nice (but not essential) to include a link so people can see/buy the original.
What you can’t legally do is to:
– Photocopy/screen shot and post bits of the inside of a book. (I know people do, but it violates the copyright notice inside the cover of most books. Some authors will send a legal letter; others will just quietly block and blacklist people who do that).
– Summarise the book and make a leaflet which “gives away” a significant amount of the author’s content (yes, people do this too. It’s trickier to enforce legally, but even if you get around the law you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of people, which isn’t great if you’re trying to build or maintain a business).
– If you’re a business (even a self-employed person, and even if you don’t make any or much profit), it’s not legal to lend (or, worse, rent) books out*. That’s because you’re profiting from someone else’s work without their consent. You’re also preventing authors from earning the payments they get when their books are borrowed from public or university libraries. Plus public libraries pay more for books that they lend out than you do when you buy the book online from a shop. So there are multiple ways in which the author loses out. You can legally lend or give a book to a friend, of course, but not as part of a business where you are profiting from an author’s work but only paying the retail price of the book once.
* In the 2006 Rental and Lending Rights Directive, “Lending” is defined in the legislation as follows: That a work is made available for use on the presumption that it will, or may be, returned; The lending does not lead to any economic or commercial advantage; The lending is done by an establishment that is accessible to the public or by a qualifying library that is not conducted for profit.
I know that a lot of people may be shocked to read that last example, but it’s true. As an author, I’m a member of a couple of author’s associations, and this is getting talked about more and more, because authors’ rights are a hot issue at the moment and there are moves to strengthen and enforce these, so this is a great time to educate yourself about this stuff.
In general, if you didn’t create it, then it’s not yours to share!
How to make an author your friend
All of that said, most authors LOVE it when people tag us in pics of them enjoying their book (especially in exotic places lol) and share a pic of the COVER of one of their books. We often repost or share those, because it helps get the word out and encourages others to buy the books themselves.
And at the end of the day, none of this is about stopping anyone from having fun or creating their OWN content. It’s about protecting creators so that they can make a living and continue creating great stuff.
Sharing quotes and infographics
One question that I get asked a lot is this:
“I love that quote you wrote. Can I put it in my own branding?”
Well, it’s a bit of a grey area. You’ll generally get away with it. But there’s a big but…
If you want a good relationship with the content creator, or you admire their work and want them to continue, then I would advise you not to do it. Is keeping the pattern on your tiles worth the chance that you’ll alienate colleagues or people you respect by taking their work and putting it in your colour scheme?
If it’s not your work and the owner has shared it in their branding, don’t put it into yours. Link to, share or repost the original creator’s version with a smile and spread the love.
I’ve talked to a lot of other authors and content creators about this. People who, like me, take the trouble to turn bits of their work into pictures so that others can share and learn from them. And what I’ve learned is that any minor benefit that you get from putting someone else’s words in your own branding may be outweighed by the damage you’ll do to your relationship with the creator.
One creator said:
“I’m so sick of seeing my words taken from my own pictures and pasted onto somebody else’s. Some people do give credit, but they put my name in tiny font at the bottom and slap their own large logo on the top. I can’t be bothered to send a cease and desist every time but I may block them and make a note to not work with them.”
Not everyone will feel that strongly, but I include that quote to illustrate that some people do.
And always take a few extra seconds to ensure that you spell people’s names correctly. Including in hashtags. I speak from experience.
A note about translation
Sometimes, people think that, if their customers or readers don’t read English (or the original language that the copyright content was posted in) then it’s okay to translate it without asking. This isn’t the case. It’s usually fine to translate a Facebook or Instagram post, and in fact many platforms will offer a translation. When it comes to the content of a web page, blog, book, course or other content that may be copyright? Absolutely not.
Get in touch with the author and ask. They may be OK with that. They may not. Sometimes, it’ll be up to their publisher. But always ask.
It’s all about where the reader reads
Let’s go back to blog posts and other online content. Because, now I’ve explained the principles, there’s an easy idea which you can use to help everyone. Because I’m not telling you not to share. I’m suggesting that you learn how to share content so that everyone benefits. You can still direct your readers to the blog post or web page that you like, and there’s a really friendly way of doing so which will benefit everyone.
Write your own brief (one or two line) summary and then link to the original post, page, course or book, ideally on the creator’s site.
Here’s an example:
It’s even okay to quote a line or two of the original blog in your post (no more than 10% of the original). But you need to be crystal clear that the work is someone else’s, and that you’re quoting it. And you MUST give your readers the link to the original. Always. That will allow them to visit the original site to read it in full. Don’t be tempted to send them to your site.
Do the same with courses and books. Tell people why you’re loving it without sharing the content that the writer or creator worked so hard to create.
You’ll get WAY more benefit and growth from being a generous sharer than you will from trying to put others’ content on your own site or social media just to get traffic.
So write a two line summary.
Tell them WHAT you’re recommending, WHO wrote or created it, WHERE they can find it and WHY you love it.
Focus on sharing the link
In fact, it’s pretty much always about sharing the link to the original creator’s work, site, course or book but not the entirety of the actual content.
If you do that, you’ll keep everybody happy.
Your customers, readers or followers will be happy because you’re sending them to great information.
The original blogger or creator will be happy because you’re sending them readers or customers.
You’ll be happy because you’re keeping your readers up-to-date.
By keeping your favourite content creators in business by sending them traffic, you’ll have more chance of developing a relationship with the people you want to work with more.
You’re on the right side of copyright law.
And everyone benefits.
Those who write content need people to share it, but it needs to be shared in a way that will keep traffic coming back to the original site. That’s what helps content creators to keep going and keep generating great content for all to read.
Please feel free to share this post, using the principles that I’ve discussed, and by providing a summary and a link back so people can read it on my site – thank you! I’m @drsarawickham Oh, and there’s no ‘h’ on Sara! #drsarawickham