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Online sharing can be a legal quagmire

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Piracy doesn’t only happen on the bounding main. It’s all over the internet, and often practiced by people who have no idea they are trespassing. Legal experts call it copyright infringement, and it frequently takes a seemingly benevolent form.

Consider these examples of illegal, but likely well-intentioned, sharing.

The names, of course, have been changed to protect the perhaps unwittingly guilty.

  1. Karl reads a hilarious anecdote in a blog post. Eager to pass the chuckles, he copies the story, pastes it into an email message, and sends it off to his circle of friends.
  2. Patsy finds herself particularly touched by a poem she finds in a brand-new book. She types the verses and posts them on her personal blog. She is careful to spell the poet’s name correctly.
  3. Dale is struck by the beauty of a photo on a local business’ Facebook page. He saves the photo to his own computer, then uploads it to his one profile wall.
  4. Ernie is amused by a particularly pointed political cartoon in the newspaper. He snaps a picture of it with his smart phone and uploads it as a Tweet.
  5. Betty studies an online how-to article. As the website manager for her club, she decides to publish the helpful information. She copies the text and pastes it onto one of the pages of the website.

Boom. All five of these seemingly altruistic efforts probably cross the lines of legality.

Unless the shared content is in the public domain or used by permission of the copyright holder, republication is illegal.

But it happens all the time – just like unlicensed music or video sharing. It also means the content creator – such as the artist, photographer, or writer – does not receive remuneration for his or her original and copyrighted work.

Even citing the author or artist is not enough to justify republication outside of a license to do so.

If copyright infringement is reported to Google or other major search engines, a blog or website may face serious consequences.

How can folks legally share information and images they deem worthwhile?

Many online publishers, news sites, social networking communities, blogs, and other websites offer “share” buttons on published posts. These devices enable readers or viewers to circulate items of interest without committing copyright infringement.

If the original post includes an image, that will usually be automatically included in a sharing post.

If sharing buttons are not available, it is generally acceptable to cite the title and author/artist and perhaps a short quote or comment, along with the online link (http coding) to the original piece. This credits the author or artist appropriately and directs readers to the legitimate publication.

The secret is to share directly from the source, using a provided share button or the website link, instead of copying the content without permission.

Copyright infringement is not only discourteous. It’s also a form of piracy and potentially exposes sharers to legal action.

You are cordially invited to join (“like”) the Etiquette Examiner – Chicago and More page on Facebook for courtesy tips, as well as information and even humor on matters of manners.

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