Policy Disclosure / Fav Links / Free Site Listing

Aug 7, 2008

Be Careful Who You Quote

Blogs are common if not universal tools for small and midsize businesses. They communicate new products and offers, open dialogues, and keep your business name out there. But if your blog, like many, includes outside content, you need to start being careful, particularly if the source is the AP.

There's more to online security than digital defenses -- you have to make sure as well that your use of the digital media doesn't put you at risk of legal jeopardy, as an evolving story about a major copyright-holder shows.

The Associated Press, which proudly touts itself as being the planet's longest-lived and biggest (not that they use those words; I'm just doing my best not to use any of their words) news collecting company, has decided to take a hard look at what you can and can't quote from its stories.

At present a look is just what they're taking -- after asking that some quoted material be removed from Drudge, the AP changed its mind and decided that the time had come to put together a usage policy.

More power to them, and we'll see where this goes (besides into courtrooms of various shapes and sizes.)

The point, though, for small and midsize businesses, and for your Web sites as well as your blogs, is that the AP move is an early salvo in what promises to be a long and contentious battle in the even longer and more contentious war over copyrighted content and its uses.

Rather than getting yourself caught in the crossfire -- however remote a possibility that might seem -- this is a good time to review just how much external (and, more to the point, externally owned content) is contained within your Web presence(s.)

Got a favorite song playing in the background when your site comes up? Maybe some video you grabbed from YouTube? How about a poem or long piece of prose such a news story or feature that you read online, liked and copied to share with your customers?

That sort of thing may well hold the promise of some legal peril if the copyright owner finds your unauthorized usage and decides to go after you.

It all gets very tricky and complicated -- copyright law has needed a serious and substantial revisiting for at least half a century, and needed it more desperately for every year of the past ten -- but there's a pretty easy way to make at least an initial sort through potential problems.

Apply your own standards to every bit of outside work you have in your blog or on your site:

How would you feel if your own business's work -- catalog copy, say, or consultant reports or design specifications -- appeared on somebody else's site?

Anything you find on your site that doesn't pass that test should probably go.

While you're at it, this is a good time to undertake that review of just who -- and how many -- among your employees (and outside vendors such as Web designers -- are authorized to post content on your site or entries on your business blog.