NO GUEST POSTS: A Primer on the Fair Use Rule

A problem has come up with respect to BindleSnitch members who are posting articles written by third parties without their knowledge or written consent and calling those articles “guest posts.”

The term “guest post” actually applies to articles posted by authors who are not members of a website but who have been given specific permission to post their written work on another person’s website. It is therefore only the original author of an article who has the right to post a reprint of their work on another site, and only they have the right to have their articles labelled “guest posts.” (There is also a specific plugin that gives any visitor the ability to submit guest posts but we have chosen not to implement that technology.)

The publication of an entire article written by someone other than the poster to a membership website – without the express, written permission of the original author or the original author’s publisher or agent – constitutes a clear violation of U.S. and International Copyright Law with certain exceptions under the Fair Use Rule.

Because BindleSnitch does not directly employ any of its contributors, BindleSnitch may be exempt from prosecution for the plagiarisms and copyright infringement committed by its contributors, according to the advice we have received from legal counsel.  However, that doesn’t mean that we could not be sued for plagiarisms or copyright infringements committed by our contributors. As we all know, anyone can sue anyone over anything. In the end, we would probably win, but winning would probably bankrupt us and force us out of business if we were put into  the position of having to defend that position in a court of law.

If you refer to the Wikipedia article on copyright infringement, you will find this summary statement:

Copyright infringement (colloquially referred to as piracy) is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission for a usage where such permission is required, thereby infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works. The copyright holder is typically the work’s creator, or a publisher or other business to whom copyright has been assigned. Copyright holders routinely invoke legal and technological measures to prevent and penalize copyright infringement.

(This constitutes a fair use of Wikipedia’s content because it is being quoted in the context of a longer article on the subject. Since Wikipedia articles are in the common domain, we could not be held liable even if we published the entire article.)

However, US and International Copyright laws leave room for what is called Fair Use. There is an another excellent and very accurate article on Wikipedia that deals with the Fair Use Rule. In that article, it is explained that fair use may allow you to reprint an entire article written by a third party without permission, as long as the purpose for which it has been quoted is to criticize, support, oppose, or contradict the content of the quoted material.

You cannot simply label something as a guest post or guest editorial and then publish that material without further comment because (a) it is clearly a copyright violation and (b) because you would be theoretically eligible to receive a monetary benefit from the publication of that third person’s article even if it were labelled as a guest post or guest editorial. This makes it absolutely clear that this is a copyright infringement.

If you refer to our own community guidelines, you will find this statement:

No Plagiarism or Copyright Infringement: Anyone found to have published a plagiarized article will be terminated. Plagiarism is knowingly and deliberately publishing another person’s copyrighted material under your byline. You have a perfect right to quote from any copyrighted material without obtaining permission from the copyright owner in the course of writing a news article, a review, a scholarly paper, or any other project in which the opinions of the person being quoted are significant. You must give credit where credit is due by putting quotation marks around the quote and citing the author, the publication, or both. We have software that checks for plagiarism. If we find that you have submitted plagiarized work as your own, you will be terminated. If we find that more than 20 percent of the content of an article (exclusive of direct quotations) was copied, the article will be removed, you will not receive credit for the views earned on that article, and you will be warned. After the third warning you will be terminated. Even if you are terminated, you will continue to receive payments on views earned by your previous articles. (This section has been amended to clearly include copyright infringement with plagiarism because there is an actual difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism. Plagiarism constitutes the passing off of another person’s written works as your own original work, and constitutes the theft of intellectual property. Copyright infringement is the appropriation and misuse of copyrighted material belonging to another person and constitutes a violation of law even if you give credit to the original author if you did not have express written permission to publish that content and the content exceeds the fair use limitations.) 

There has been some confusion concerning the practices of Facebook and Google News with respect to this issue.

When you post an article from another publication on Facebook by inserting the URL for that article into your own Facebook post, that URL becomes a hyperlink. Facebook automatically inserts the featured image associated with that article into your Facebook post, but this is not considered a copyright violation because the image does not reside on Facebook’s server.  It is being pulled into Facebook from the publisher’s server.

When that hyperlink is triggered, the user is redirected to the that publisher’s website, which means that the traffic being generated from that posting is accruing to the original publisher’s websites. This is completely legal and it is also something that website operators want you to do because it broadens the reach of their content, increases their traffic with no additional effort on their part, and generates increased revenue for them by attracting new readers to their sites. Bindlesnitch does not offer this functionality because we do not believe it reflects well upon the organization.

This practice has been widely accepted.  You can, I suppose, copy and paste the entire contents of someone else’s  articles into your Facebook post and you might get away with it over and over again….but  copyright owners will eventually catch up with you demand that this content be taken down, and Facebook would routinely do that.

On Google News, you have a slightly different situation, because users cannot post articles to Google News, but Google routinely lists the most viewed articles in several major categories by including hyperlinks to those articles. This is not a copyright violation because the content does not appear on the Google News website, and the traffic generated by the postings accrues to the original posters of the articles being cited.

You may not be aware of this, but there are companies -some of them are even shyster operated law firms – that constantly troll the world wide web with their own bot, searching for examples of copyright infringement and plagiarism. There are also freelancers who use free software that does the same thing, finding instances of plagiarism and selling that information to the legitimate copy holders.

So, let’s be clear about this.  On Bindlesnitch:

  1. You cannot label an article as a “guest post.” There is no such thing as a guest post on Bindlesnitch
  2. You cannot insert the entire content of another person’s copyrighted work with or without giving them credit.
  3. If you use someone else’s copyrighted content without proper notice, that is called plagiarism and you will be terminated when this come to our attention under the three strike rule (and we are re-thinking the three strike rule.)
  4. If you post the entire content of another person’s copyrighted article, this is still considered copyright infringement (with certain exceptions for fair use) and you will be terminated under the three strike rule.