New to blogging and curious about what you can and can’t use from the internet? Get some simple tips for Ethical Blogging 101
The other day, I got into an interesting conversation with some bloggers online. Our conversation started when someone mentioned that some of their content had been copied and pasted onto another person’s blog post. Some bloggers in the conversation actually felt that it was okay to copy and paste content as long as you linked back to the original source. Yet other bloggers, like myself, said that it was wrong to use content that doesn’t belong to you.
Coincidentally, the day after that conversation someone posted one of my recipes in full (and the accompanying image) on their blog post without permission. They linked to my original recipe, but logically there is no reason to go through the link if the recipe is listed right there.
I contacted the blogger and they were gracious about taking the content down, but I had to explain to them why it wasn’t a good idea to copy and post full recipes, much less use an image without permission. I was frustrated that I even had to explain why copying content was a bad thing.
The reason that copying content is a bad thing is that 1) it is not your content, therefore you cannot use it without permission…period, and 2) blogging is becoming a profitable enterprise for people. If you are making money on your blog, then you stand to profit from copying content, which is akin to theft.
This is why copyright laws exist: so people can get credit for their hard work and to prevent people from profiting from work that is not their own.
This isn’t the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last. But I do try to be civil about things since some bloggers legitimately don’t understand the implications of copying other people’s work. But this whole scenario inspired me to write a little bit about acceptable use of content on the Internet.
Basically Ethical Blogging 101. Pretty basic, a lot of it is common courtesy, but some of it is pretty sticky like the use of recipes and redoing recipes, etc.
The reason this is such an important topic is that 1) blogging can be a good source of income for people, 2) there is a lot of work that goes into every aspect of blogging, especially recipes and photos, and 3) copyright laws apply to content on the internet, including images and recipes, and people can be sued for copyright infringement.
So, here are some thoughts and tips on ethical blogging and good habits to adopt:
- It is not okay to use an image that doesn’t belong to you in a blog post unless 1) you get express permission from the image owner or creator, 2) it is an image specifically designated as free use (such as the images from Unsplash, Death to the Stock Photo, etc.), or 3) you purchased the rights to use images
- If you find an image on Google, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Instagram, it’s not okay to simply pop it into one of your blog posts, even if it’s a meme, and even if you credit the owner and link back. You need to get permission
- If you do get permission to use an image in your blog post, make it very clear that the image belongs to someone else and link back to that person’s website. It is a good idea to link the image itself back to the owner’s website so people will get there by clicking right on the image
- It is not okay to cut and paste a recipe that isn’t your won in it’s entirety into a blog post (or on Pinterest, Facebook, etc.), even if you link back to the original post.
- If I make a few small and minor changes to the recipe, I will post my photos of the food item and link back to the original recipe with comments on my changes
- If I make several bigger changes to a recipe, I will post my recipe in my own words and link back to the original as the recipe inspiration. Give clear credit where credit is due
- It doesn’t matter if the website taking the recipe is a big company or a huge corporation, it is still copyrighted material and should be treated as such. As an example, several of my recipes are featured in full on the Silk website, but this was a paid arrangement and I created the recipes for them specifically
- For recipe roundups (which I don’t do very often), I have a mix of my content and other’s content. I share photos that look nice if the owners have given so express permission to use them, but for recipe roundups always link to the post do you not post the entire recipe on your blog (that is not good practice)
- Copyright: recipe ingredients aren’t copyrighted since many people can come up with recipes using similar ingredients, but the writing of the recipe directions is considered copyrighted content since it can be unique for each person writing the recipe.
- It is okay to do a quote here and there in your post if it is a few sentences and there is clear evidence of quotation and the content is cited properly and linked back to the original source. Readers need to know for sure that the content is quoted and it is not your own. But don’t overdo quoting other content. In the end your content should still be mostly your content unless you are posting a press release or something meant to be copied and posted, like affiliate content specifically made for that use
- Borrowing or “quoting” many paragraphs or entire blog posts is not okay. There are copyright laws governing written content and it can be legally enforced, so play it safe. If in doubt, just link back to the article and say something like “read more here”…
No one is perfect, but we need to respect other people’s hard work. I have made mistakes in the past with some of my old blog posts and using images before I knew about copyright infringement. But I have gone through most of my old posts to remove images and photos that don’t belong to me and ones that I don’t know 100% sure if they are free use. There are some lingering images here and there in my blog (I need to go through and find them…), but I have switched out many images in my blogs for my own images or images from places like Unsplash or Death to Stock that are specifically marked as FREE use.
Where to get good images to use:
- Create your own: Create your own quotes and images using PicMonkey, Canva, Picasa, Whims app, Pablo by Buffer, Piktochart (infographics), and more (there are tons of resources out there!). If you aren’t a great photographer, use creative photo apps like PicStitch or Studio to make your photos stand out. Blogging takes time and lots of work: if you feel like you don’t have the time to create good content, then post less frequently. Think quality over quantity, but by all means post your own content. Not having to time to create your own content is never a good reason to use someone else’s content on your blog.
- Use free stock images: there are wonderful websites out there that have lots of quality stock images that don’t suck! There are so many to list, but Kamila Gornia has a great list of sites with free stock images!
- Purchase: buy creative resources from places like Creative Market, iStock, Canva, etc. Creative Market also offers premium free items like fonts and blog themes every week if you’re trying to save money
None of these things are meant to discourage people from blogging. People need to step with caution when using online content since people can be sued for copyright infringement for taking content from other blogs.
At the end of the day, be considerate!
Follow the Golden Rule: if it was your content, would you want someone to copy it?
Sarah Jane Parker is the founder, recipe creator, and photographer behind The Fit Cookie. She’s a food allergy mom and healthy living blogger based in Wyoming. Sarah is also an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, ACE Certified Health Coach, Revolution Running certified running coach, and an ACE Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist