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Dallas Buyers Club decision also a warning for people who cut and paste

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In the wake of the recent Federal Court judgement that a number of Australian ISPs give up the addresses and identities of those who illegally downloaded the film Dallas Buyers Club earlier this month, the question still remains: is it legal to reproduce creative property published online?

The answer is, simply put, no.

For a company to avoid serious embarrassment or even costly lawsuits down the track, it’s essential to remember that ‘the internet’ is not just another name for ‘public domain’.

Although the content that makes up websites such as blogs, social media posts, whitepaper downloads, articles, photographs, product guides, infographics, etc., are easily accessed and copied, it doesn’t make it legal.

In fact, copying another company’s intellectual property (whether it’s written, recorded, or photographed) can also seriously hamper your SEO and may lead to crippling Google penalties.

So when is it OK to use someone else’s content?

As copyright laws stand today, content can be reproduced as long as the copyright holder has acknowledged that others may use it freely. Creative Commons is an example of this.  When Infodec Communications creates content for clients we provide them with a license to re-produce that content for certain things and for a specific period.

Content may also be reproduced legally if the sole copyright holder has been deceased for more than fifty years, or the content is considered public domain. Sometimes these regulations can vary and it’s best to find more on the Copyright Agency Limited website.

Now that some 4,700 Australian internet account holders are the target of Hollywood producers for piracy, it’s essential for Australian businesses—both big and small— be aware of just how important it is to ensure the content they publish online is not only unique, but doesn’t infringe on copyright.

The only safe way to avoid copyright infringement is to produce unique content. Statistics and quotes from other sources may be used as long as they are cited within the content, yet using another person’s photograph in a blog post, their music in a YouTube video or simply ‘cutting and pasting’ text from one website to another is asking for trouble.

Copyright infringement cases and plagiarists  who have been caught

Copyright infringement isn’t something that simply disappears over time, either.  There have been a number of lawsuits that have been filed years after the fact.

For example, in 2013 Thomas Althouse filed a copyright infringement against the Hollywood blockbuster film, The Matrix. He claimed that his script entitled The Immortals, submitted to Warner Bros Studios in 1993, shared 119 similarities.

It’s not only screenwriters and giant Hollywood production companies that have gone head-to-head over issues of copyright.  In 2009, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was accused of plagiarising portions of an article written by TalkingPointsMemo.com editor Josh Marshall. Maureen Dowd had copied two forty-word paragraphs directly from Marshall’s work and was made to publish an official apology for her mistake.  It was no doubt an embarrassing and damaging moment for the New York Times’ history.

While your online content may be produced either in-house or with the help of a communications agency, the important thing to consider is whether or not the content you are publishing is indeed your own.  Why?  If the idea of lawsuits doesn’t concern you, the reality of Google penalties should.

How Google ranks content – don’t use the same copy as your industry competitors

Google tends to rank the pages with the greatest user interaction and highest quality, unique content first.  The search engine giant avoids presenting pages with duplicate or copied content into the same batch of results for the purpose of diversity.  If you or your copywriter is developing content for your website that is copied from another source, Google will know and you may be penalised (in some respects) for not producing unique content.

You’ll also find that there are a number of marketing companies out there that specialise in marketing for specific industries.  For example, accountants, real estate agents, solicitors etc.

While this option may be marginally cheaper than engaging a communications agency, the content they produce for you will more often than not be supplied word-for-word to other accountants, solicitors or real estate agents.  This ‘carbon copy’ approach is time-effective for the marketing agency, yet doesn’t supply the client with unique content.

What questions do I need to ask when hiring a copywriter?

So what is the best way to protect yourself and your business against copyright infringement?  When engaging a communications agency to produce your online content, ensure that they have professional indemnity insurance. See our previous blog about other questions to ask.

It’s no longer good enough to claim ignorance when it comes to copyright infringement, especially now, in the wake of the Dallas Buyers Club case.  Professional indemnity insurance protects companies from plagiarism (incidental or otherwise) and is held by all reputable copywriters.  Remember, large companies don’t usually outsource to freelance copywriters unless they see their insurance details first, and neither should you.  While it might be cheaper to use overseas outsourcing services you need to weigh up the risk and the benefits.

To put the legal message aside for one moment, there is a lot of value in producing unique online content.  The SEO for your website will improve, increasing its ranking in Google’s search results, driving consumer interaction and further enhancing the online presence of your business. Creating unique content allows the voice of your company, your brand to be heard. Tailor-made content, crafted to deliver a specific message and target a specific audience is generally far more successful in engaging lasting attention.

Remember this above all else.

Remember, online content is not public domain to be cut, pasted and used when required.  It is essential that in 2015 Australian businesses are aware of the very real risks involved if they choose to plagiarise another company’s content.

The copywriters at Infodec Communications are experts in producing engaging, unique content free of plagiarism. We’re an innovative group of communications experts, results-driven and determined to deliver high-quality content, tailor-made to your business. Contact us today to discover what an affordable content marketing plan can do to promote your business.