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Generally the point of social media is to share and spread the reach of a particular piece of content. Most originators WANT their content to be liked and retweeted and posted. This builds the reach and the value of their ideas.

Legally it is still fuzzy in terms or what is copyrightable in social media and what classifies as infringement. The legal structure for is built slowly piece by piece so this topic is one that will grow both in definition and complexity. Professionals in highly regulated areas such as financial advice, medical advice, insurance and tax are justifiably concerned about the dangers of putting anything in writing in the “Wild West” landscape of social media.

For now though, I suggest a guide in the spirit of sharing and collaboration, rather than protection and prosecution. Here are a few questions that I use myself when creating and sharing content via social media:

  1. Do I know the original source or am I blindly cutting and pasting? It is tempting to look for the perfect photo, statistic or sound bite to accompany your original content. But just putting in search terms and grabbing the content can get you into copyright trouble down the road.
  2. Am I giving credit to the source of this information? Social media is about the sharing of ideas, opinions, and individual creativity. In this spirit credit the source via a link back to the original, a nod to the author via an @TwitterHandle or a simple retweet or repin. This does not protect you completely, but it does show non-malicious intent that can help in the event of a later challenge.
  3. Did my borrowing cost someone else money? Be especially careful posting content where it is clear that the originator may lose possible money. For example, media sources such as the New York Times and Washington Post get their income from paying subscribers. Use their logos, photos or direct copies of articles and you are likely to get a strong email from the publisher letting you know how you can purchase the rights — or cease and desist. The same goes for celebrities, well-known writers, etc. On the other hand, many up-and-coming content creators and entrepreneurs are very happy to see their content liked and posted (with attribution of course). This can actually help them gain additional fans, or even customers.
  4. Do I have the licenses or permissions for all images? For blog posts I make it a practice to either 1) Use my own photos or created drawings and charts, 2) Purchase photos from a photo licensing site or 3) Credit a photo that is marked Creative Commons “some rights reserved”. Click here on how to identify these images on Flickr .
  5. Do I have clear copyright policies for my own work? It is a good practice to include a copyright statement on all presentations, web pages and images. Of course, if you truly want to protect your intellectual property, you must then be willing to invest the time and effort in searching for violators and then following up.

What are your guidelines for respecting copyright in social media? Share your questions and comments below.

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