T oday, Jason Falls, editor of the Social Media Explorer, published an article entitled, “How Share Alike Copyright Can Hurt Your Brand And SEO.” A detailed explanation of copyright and the Creative Commons license is beyond the scope of this post, but Jason's high level overview is helpful. It's a great reminder that, as an online publisher, it is your responsibility to tell people under what conditions they may reprint or use your content for any purpose, with or without your express permission.
Jason's post is about the adverse consequences that can result when you make your intellectual property available for lots of people to aggregate and/or republish elsewhere, even when you are acknowledged as the content originator and copyright holder. After reading Jason's post (and I encourage you to do so), I wanted to share three important things with you.
Embrace your role as publisher. No matter what else you do, you are also a publisher. By that I mean, the future of your business depends on your ability to use photographs, video and smartly crafted text to educate, inform and entertain in order to entice people to want to learn more about your products.
As a publisher, you know that content is king. When you've invested your time and money to author works that share your ideas, you must also protect those ideas from misappropriation.
Since you don't sell anything that is not also sold by someone else, you must leverage the things that really set you apart: you the person, and your intellectual property. No matter how hard someone tries, they cannot be you. Use social media and other new technologies to make it easy for people to get to know you. Another significant winning proposition you have is the fruit of your brain — the intellectual property you create — your blog, your website, the podcasts you host, the photos you take, the words you write, the video you record, etc., These are all valuable pieces of content.
Your content is gold. Treat it as such.
Choose carefully when giving re-print permission. I am very selective about where my content can be shared. Usually, when I give permission for a full post, it's to members of IBN, and I request a specific byline. (See an example here.) Articles that are republished with my permission almost always concern law and public policy issues in the cosmetics industry. My small business success and social media marketing commentary falls into a different category.
Unfortunately, people do copy me without my permission regularly, and that stinks. While I don't have a team of attorneys to prosecute each instance, I do pursue the most aggregious violations by having the infringing pages disabled pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Since I don't have a legal team on retainer to handle each violation, I do the next best thing by guarding my intellectual property on the front end so I don't have to do so after the fact, as Jason describes in his post.
Own the fruit of your brain. Some bloggers (and people who blog) have been eager to share their content in order to build their lists and connect with people they might not otherwise ever connect with. By generously and repeatedly allowing re-posting and aggregation, and also by agreeing to create unique content for free to be shared at blogs that are more popular than theirs, they expand their sphere of influence faster than they would if they did not allow such generous re-publishing. The consequence of this, as Jason describes, is the exchange of brand, SEO strength and business value for increased visibility. This can be viewed as the exchange of long term business value for short term benefit.
I have chosen not to do this, but my choice has consequences as well. Namely, I do not have as large a readership as I might otherwise have if I routinely gave my content away.
Here are the terms upon which anyone may re-publish any of my intellectual property. I have opted to grow more slowly and own my intellectual property, rather than to grow more quickly by diluting it. My choice is by no means “right,” nor is it necessarily the choice I will make forever. What's important here is that you know what's at stake, and that you carefully weigh your options so you can make the best decisions for your business.
We connect in an exciting yet challenging and complicated time, where business is democratized and everyone with an Internet connection is equally equipped to become a well respected publisher of certain types of information. While I do not believe in trying to maintain control over every little thing I publish, there are long term consequences for choosing the shorter term, “let it all hang out,” strategy pursued by some.
Even though I cannot always stop people from stealing my content, I do things on the front end to minimize the problem by making it harder, not easier, to re-publish my content without my permission.
The fruit of your brain has value. How you capitalize on that value, whether by keeping to yourself more content than you share, or by spreading your brain fruit around, is up to you. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and each business owner has to decide what works best under the circumstances.
If you don't appropriately value your content, no one else will either. If content is in fact king, why would anyone treat theirs like anything less than gold?
Questions: Am I selfish? Sensible? Delusional? Setting a poor example for my children? What did I miss? What do you do when people steal your content without your permission? Have you noticed dilution of your brand and/or SEO due to re-publication permissions?