How Much Copying is OK?

Ian Lurie

In the last four days, I’ve seen two instances where someone duplicated content from one of my sites.

The first instance was so far beyond the pale that it was clearly grounds for a lawsuit.

The second instance was more subtle. I have an RSS feed from my site. It’s there with the expectation that folks can use it to subscribe to my site using their newsreaders.

But in this case, someone took the RSS feed and used software to publish that feed directly to their web page, with no attribution at all. So they had a page on their site that lifted the entire Conversation Marketing home page and reprinted it, word for word.

To me, that’s unethical. It also has no search benefit because it’s duplicate content. So I wrote to the site owner asking them to remove the feed. Their reply was:

“You shouldn’t syndicate your material if you do not want it on other sites. That’s what syndication is.&rdquot;

The rest of the message was considerably less polite, but they relented and took down the content.

Was I overreacting? I don’t think so. But what’s your opinion?

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. People need to really get a grip about distribution (what you are doing with an RSS feed) and (re-)publishing (what is they are doing).
    Eg big cities have free newspapers – does that mean you can republish their content? Of course not.
    I hate idiots that assume RSS means ‘publish as much as you want’

  2. That would have made me pretty upset if someone was using my feed like that. I’m glad you were able to work it out.
    Just because you’re publishing via RSS doesn’t mean you’re openly syndicating your content for anyone to use for free. TV shows get syndicated, but someone pays for the right to do so.
    People need to understand that unless stated otherwise, the info is copyrighted.
    It was unwise for him to be rude with you. He’s lucky you were nice and let it go. Sometimes a bad attitude is all it takes to push things from a misunderstanding to a lawsuit.

  3. Syndication and republishing is one thing but when someone actively removes your statement of copyright then legally you are on more solid ground especially if they are deriving revenue etc so why not put the following in a random spot within all posts from now on:
    Article originally published by:
    Not perfect but should drive them all nuts…

  4. Cool idea. Right now we use a widget that queries Google for duplicates. This would make it clearer, though, that folks need to steer clear. For some reason no one figures out that copyright exists upon publication, not from saying ‘Copyright 2007’.

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