Ever since we started to work on Scoop.it, we’ve had this question: is it fair to use other people’s content for your own good: in other words, how ethical is content curation? Is it even legal?
A quick look at history clearly shows that artists and scientists never created in a vacuum but have always leveraged pre-existing work to develop their own. And that’s for the greater good. Closer to us, there is a multitude of online media sites which embraced content curation as an alternative or a complement to the content they produce: the Huffington Post is a famous example but Upworthy and BuzzFeed are others and even the respected New York times started doing it.
Of course, such an answer won’t satisfy your legal department or your own need to have a more pragmatic answer. So as we’ve now been arounds for several years and, more importantly, have seen millions of users publish more than 100 million pieces of content, we feel we can not only give you a recap of the facts that make content curation ethical but also back that out with data.
What is content curation from a copyright standpoint? Who gains from it?
The copyright law in most countries (including the US and EU countries): there are exceptions to copyright law enabling content curation. Of course, as often in law, it can be one thing to state something simply and another to interpret it but Fair Use or the Right to Quote are fundamental legal principles that have been around for a long time and that have always enabled content curation much before the Internet existed. That’s what makes it possible for a newspaper to refer or quote another one, review a book or a movie, etc…
We’ll go back to how we can ensure content curation meets the various legal criteria but beyond the legal framework, we can ask ourselves who’s to gain from content curation.
1. Content curators win visibility from ethical content curation
If you’re reading this, chances are you already convinced of that. If not, look at the data: Scoop.it users have altogether brought hundreds of millions of visits on their Scoop.it topic pages which prominently display their own professional or business brands. That’s in addition to Scoop.it customers using our integration capabilities to add curated content to their website or blogs and boost their SEO, traffic and leads.
Content curators win visibility because content curation provides their audience with credible and valuable content. When they apply this technique on their areas of expertise, it’s a repeatable process that saves them time and lets them scale faster than creating 100% original content.
2. Readers of content curators win from ethical content curation
Readers of content curators save time too: they receive news digest of the best content on a given topic. They get context and point-of-views from curators but they can also balance that with the original content which provides a more credible mix.
3. Publishers win from ethical content curation
When the Web 2.0 and UGC platforms such as YouTube started, the big debate then was whether this would benefit content owners. Since then, the vast majority of publishers have realized that yes, having your content shared in forums, blogs, websites and of course social networks is not a good thing, it’s a great thing. Social has become a major source of traffic for publishers, rivaling search, and you can’t go through your reading routine without seeing sharing buttons prominently displayed on media sites or blogs.
Content curation from that point of view is sharing on steroids: instead of simply saying “I liked this”, content curators bring an additional layer of context: “Here’s why I do”.
Scoop.it has been known to generate traffic for publishers ever since we launched and we’ve had numerous incoming calls from tier-1 media groups noticing that and seeing Scoop.it among their top referrers. It also happens with bloggers: when I met rock star blogger Mark Schaefer for the first time, that’s what he told me. And with content platforms too: SlideShare called us because they saw us in their referral traffic analytics and wanted to see how they could partner with us.
So content curation provides a beautiful symbiosis between curators, readers and publishers. The formers add value to their audience while using the latter’s work. Readers benefit by saving time discovering great content. Publishers in turn receive more visibility and traffic.
But this nice win-win-win situation is a balance and there are a number of common sense observations we can make:
- Content curation only generates traffic if there’s a link back to the original content: that’s trivial but nonetheless essential…
- There is a point at which quoting too much from the original content ends up being plagiarism: at the extreme, if I copy/paste all the original post on my blog, I remove the need for my readers to click through to the publisher’s website. But even copying less than 100% might be enough to discourage my readers from doing so – in the same way spoiling a TV show might discourage your friends from watching it. So quotation needs to be short.
- If no credit is given to the publishers from the curators, then they miss a part of the deal: yes, they’ll receive traffic but not the visibility component.
How content curation platforms help ensure ethical content curation
While content curation pre-existed curation tools (again, it pre-dates the Internet), the reason we created Scoop.it is that we felt software could help a lot in the process. It’s true when it comes to saving time discovering content (a process we automate through our suggestion engine that crawls 25 million webpages to find the best content for our users), it’s true when it comes to enabling automated publishing workflows (from the basic cross-posting to several social networks to scheduling, programming and reposting content, generating email newsletters, etc..) but it’s also true to ensure ethical content curation.
To make it concrete, here’s how for example the Scoop.it platform does it:
1. Automated prominent backlink inclusion
A curated piece of content – or a scoop as we call it – will always have a link back to the original article, whether it’s posted on your free Scoop.it page or on your own website or blog if you’re integrating your curated content there. On Scoop.it and in our embed code, the link is prominently displayed behind the title, the image and the source. When integrated with WordPress, it will be the link of the featured image as well as very visibly displayed as the beginning of the article with a mention of the source.
2. Pre-formatted short quotes
By default, Scoop.it will pre-format your curated post with an extract from the original article which will be either the open-graph description or the first few words of the original content. In both cases, it’s a very short extract of the original piece as we want to be conservative on matching fair use criteria.
3. Automated clear attribution
Curated posts created with Scoop.it will always have a clear attribution to the original source, even beyong Scoop.it pages if you integrate this curated content in WordPress or embed it on your website.
4. Automatically resized images
Again to be conservative, we downsize the resolution of images automatically so that the image accompanying your curated post will always be a smaller, lower quality of the original one.
5. Insights for commentary
Scoop.it also lets you add an insight to each of your curated posts, again both on free Scoop.it topic pages or when integrated in your website/blog. Insight are separated and distinguished from quotes to avoid confusion.
6. Editing capabilities
Modifying titles or changing images further differentiates your curation work from the original and can be done easily from the Scoop.it publishing window.
7. Use of do-follow links
When integrating curated content on your own website or blog (either through an embed code or our WordPress integration), Scoop.it will make the backlinks do-follow links so you can pass SEO juice to publishers.
Can you still perform unethical content curation on Scoop.it?
Yes. But if you do, that’s probably because you wanted to (spammers, we mean you).
All the above features are built in order to make you an ethical content curator without having you worry about becoming one. Just by following the simple publishing experience Scoop.it provides. That’s part of the value we bring and that’s why content curation is much better with software.
What do 100 million curated posts tell us on ethical content curation?
You might ask: ok that’s very nice but does it pass the test of real life? Well, we have data on that. Not just some data but we might actually have one of the largest data sets on the subject.
Ever since we launched we had more than 100 million pieces of content curated by our user base. That’s statistically significant, right? Over this vast volume of publishing activity, we’ve received every quarter about 2-5 copyright infringement take-down requests per 1,000,000 posts curated. Yes, that’s less than .0005%. And most of the times, these take-down requests concern the very small minority of spammers.
So while the whole idea of sharing content was a debate in 2005 and still was when we launched Scoop.it back in 2011, online content curation has since then emerged as a mainstream practice. The rationale is simple: a win-win-win deal for readers, curators and – perhaps more importantly – publishers. This synergy only comes when some parameters and some rules are enforced which is where content curation software (also) helps. On the Scoop.it platform alone, millions of users have been curating for the benefit of hundreds of millions readers and thousands of publishers. And the data shows that from an ethical standpoint, they’ve done a great job.