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The Art of the Fan-Based Blog: Copyrights for You and Your Content Sources

The Art of the Fan-based Blog badgeBy DB Ferguson of the


I know I just recommended aggregating news stories from sources outside of your blog in my series on The Art of the Fan-Based Blog, and that search engines were your friend. They are. However, I cannot stress this enough, be extremely mindful of every single word or picture that you post that you did not create.

As someone who literally regurgitates information from various sources, you also need to protect those sources. That protection comes in the form of copyright. It is illegal to plagiarize or copy and publish content without permission – depending upon the copyright policy of the copyright holder. As the one copying and republishing the information, the onus is on you to understand copyright law to protect yourself.

Fair Use Law

The law most commonly used by many bloggers to justify the aggregation of externally sourced news is the Fair Use law in Section 107 of the US Copyright law. It states:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106a, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) The amount and sustainability of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Wikipedia has a very substantial article on Fair Use, Lorelle covers copyrights and Fair Use in What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content, and Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today covers this extensively.

In a nutshell, what this law is stating that outside content can be used if it is for “nonprofit educational purposes” (in other words, that you are not reselling the copyrighted information), the amount used is not excessive (i.e., you’re not just taking their content in its entirety), and whether the use of said information is going to financially impact the copyright holder.

The Fair Use law is your friend, but it does not give you the right to aggregate content indiscriminately. Take great precautions when using other people’s content, and keep in mind at all times whether the information you are using is violating this law.

Linking and Giving Credit to Your Sources

Most news sources do not mind if you use a partial republishing of their story or content as long as it is credited and linked, and you do not post their content in its entirety, however, some do. Always err on the side of caution when posting other people’s content and link like crazy and cite sources.

When I post a story originally posted in the New York Times, for example, I’ll start the blog post with an intro which includes a mention of my source, a blockquote of a paragraph or two from the article that I am printing, and links and words that always link back to the original article. At the end of the article, I add another link to the original article with the “Full text of Article – [Post title]“.

Playing nice with copyrights and permissions earns you bonuses and builds great relationships. I send e-mails to bloggers who publish a story that I cover on No Fact Zone to thank them for their hard work and to let them know their story is linked from my blog. On more than one occasion, this has led me to getting even more information about the subject. I’ve even gotten fresh content for my site after corresponding with guests from ‘The Colbert Report’ who blogged about their experiences on their personal blog.

Photographs, Public Domain, Fan Pics

collage of celebrity photosAnother ambiguous area for fandom blog content is pictures. While their picture may be on the web, does it mean you can use it on your blog?

According to the Library of Congress:

While it is true that famous or public figures who seek recognition have thereby surrendered some privacy, they may have the right to control the commercial use of their image (likeness, voice, signature, etc.). This principle recognizes that a celebrity’s image can be an asset in trade.

The two issues that are most important in interpreting copyright law of celebrity images are the Right of Publicity (the right of the celebrity to control their own likeness or their own privacy) as well as the copyrights of the original photographer. MediaLawyer.com has an excellent page outlining some of the more specific issues dealing with the copyright of celebrity images, and I would highly recommend it to get a better feel for what constitutes copyright infringement for images you may be considering for your site.

Fans crave pictures of their celebs and subject. Unfortunately, a blogging fan is rarely in a position to actually take those pictures nor buy them, thus is limited to what he or she can find on the web from news sources and other fan blogs. The copyright belongs to the person who took the picture, thus you always have to check to see if they will allow use of their image with or without permission.

There are many sites which offer free hotlinking to their images, such as Flickr and Photobucket, with credit links. There are also sites which permit free usage of their images under a Creative Commons license, such as Zimbio and Daylife.

However, if you can build some strong relationships with your competition and fan community, you can often get permission to use their images on your blog easily.

When possible, I recommend you save the original picture to your blog (WordPress has an excellent Media tool included in its latest version) instead of hotlinking to the original site or uploading it to Flickr or other photo sharing sites. Linking to the image on your site saves bandwidth and speeds loading. It also helps if the original source moves, quits, or deletes the photograph. With the image on your site, you limit errors when the image is not found. Stored on your site or off, don’t forget to always credit the original source of the picture.

Some copyright holders of the fandom’s content gets persnickety about image content. If you are confronted with a Cease and Desist over one picture, it’s easier to remove it from your site rather than have your Flickr account shut down due to copyright violations.

Since I started my fan blog, I’ve only run across a small handful of cases where the content owners of the content I was aggregating asked for specific handling of the content I was republishing. One news organization wanted to be credited a specific way. The publishers of a book that Stephen Colbert wrote wanted me to use a specific picture of their cover art, rather than the one I wanted. These requests were easy to comply with, and all parties who have come to me asking for special treatment were willing to meet me halfway for the free publicity I was giving their product.

I’m lucky. Some fans, like a recent Prince blog, are confronted by the celeb or the parent company and face legal action for stepping over the bounds of copyright, libel, and defamation. Work within the law and you are fine. Cross it, or push the borders, and you are likely to find yourself facing legal action.

As long as you aggregate with respect to the original owners, you can publish small segments of other people’s content (with the appropriate credit and links) with relative ease. Always keep in mind, however, that the content is not technically yours, so make sure you make that abundantly clear when you share content with your readers.

By DB Ferguson of the
DB Ferguson is the webmaster of , a Stephen Colbert-centric news blog and fan site. NoFactZone.net and the companion site, Colbert University, are interactive fan-based endeavors and are not the official website/s of Stephen Colbert. These sites are not officially affiliated with or endorsed by Stephen Colbert, “The Colbert Report” television show, Comedy Central, or Viacom Media.

Article Series

5 Comments

  1. dailycad
    Posted December 18, 2008 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    Very interesting..

  2. Posted December 18, 2008 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Depending on your subject matter, you may also be able to register as accredited media and get access to image libraries and press releases / editorial features – or even arrange interviews. After almost a year of building credibility through news reporting and original content on our motor sports site, we began to apply to Formula One teams, motor manufacturers with racing programs and to racing leagues and series. We’ve had a couple of failures, but almost everyone – from Vodafone McLaren Mercedes to the Indy Racing League – granted us access to photos and we have also been able to arrange driver interviews and press entry to events. I guess the message here is, run your site professionally and the professionals will deal with you directly.

  3. Posted December 18, 2008 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    @Andy

    Ooh! Excellent strategies! Thanks for the feedback! I’ve gotten some official pics from Comedy Central, and you are very right – run your site professionally and the professionals will deal with you directly.

  4. Posted December 19, 2008 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle, great article. More bloggers need to be aware of copyright.

    Would it be worth mentioning or putting a disclaimer to the effect that your milage may vary between jurisdictions? I’m not on about American bloggers being subject to any other jurisdiction’s law, but rather bloggers in other countries who are reading your blog.

    For example I’m from the UK, and therefore I’m subject to UK copyright law, and we don’t have fair use. We have ‘fair dealings’ which is less generous than fair use.

    I’d love your thoughts on this. All the best!

    • Posted December 19, 2008 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      This is an article by DB Ferguson, and maybe she can address the issue from her point of view, but from mine, copyright law has been embraced by most countries in the world. Not all, and different countries have different rules, so find out what your rules are. And respect the copyrights for those living in other countries.

      When it comes to tackling copyright violations, it gets more complex as you cannot impose your laws on the laws of another country. Online, that means that if the copyright prosecution escalates, it comes under the rules of the country in which the website is hosted. That mushes things up plenty when it comes to enforcement. You can get all my thoughts on this and more in What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content, with a ton of links to resources that will help you learn more about how copyright works.


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  1. [...] The Art of the Fan-Based Blog: Copyrights for You and Your Content Sources [...]

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  3. [...] The Art of the Fan-Based Blog: Copyrights for You and Your Content Sources [...]

  4. [...] The Art of the Fan-Based Blog: Copyrights for You and Your Content Sources « Lorelle on WordPr… on December 18, 2008 at 4:37 [...]

  5. […] Copyright for You and Your Content Sources: Protecting your own copyrights includes protecting the rights of those you cite. Famous and public figures have surrendered some privacy but they have the right to control the commercial use of their image, so protect yourself and their rights and play nice. […]

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