For writers who are just starting to blog, part of the learning curve involves understanding copyrights, trademarks, privacy rights, and plagiarism. For example, copying images or text from the web to use on your blog is easy, but it can make you look like a fool if you don’t know how to do it legally.
I’ve been shocked to find that university professors, accustomed to copying and sharing in their course handouts published material written by other scholars, often don’t know that they can’t always do the same when they blog (i.e., self-publish) or write for a publisher. It’s no wonder some of their students don’t observe the laws either. Ignorance is no defense, though.
On many blogging platforms you must create your own links to your sources and/or include a caption or attribution line to advise readers where you legally obtained material that you’ve shared on your blog. Blogging demands the effort when you’re conscientious.
Obtain permission to reprint any text, images, and illustrations that you don’t own or that aren’t in the public domain, when fair use isn’t applicable. Know the definitions of public domain, fair use, Creative Commons, plagiarism, etc. Permission from the originator isn’t the only thing you’ll need. You’ll also need to provide proper attribution once permission has been secured in writing.
Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr, automate the link back to the site that serves as a poster’s source. However, if you’re using one of these social media sites, then as a matter of principle, before you post a link, you’ll want to determine whether the owner of the webpage to which you’re linking is the original creator of or the copyright holder for whatever you’re linking in order to share. More often than not, your particular source for an item will not be the original. Sometimes it’s easy to locate the original and link to it instead of to the page where you first found something interesting. You can always give a tip of the hat (h/t) to the poster who brought the linked item to your attention.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the content creator, and don’t fail to give credit where credit’s due. If you can’t identify the originator or the current copyright holder, then it’s best not to share the material.
There is a lot to learn about the laws applicable to bloggers, which is why I don’t recommend the sink-or-swim method that many bloggers rely on.
If you want to know the laws, then study the material linked at legal tips for bloggers. You’ll be a more trusted source as a blogger if you respect the law and other creators.
More on these topics
What is Plagiarism?
Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright
U.S. Copyright Office
Publishing Personal and Private Information
Digital Media Law Project