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"But Mom told me to share!" How Sharing Online Content Can Have Consequences

From an early age, we are taught that we should share with other people.  Whether it is toys or time, we become better people if we share our talents and treasures.  With the proliferation of the internet and online digital technologies, sharing has never been easier; however, it is not with out consequences.

Photographs, stories, videos, and articles are just a sampling of the various types of content out there that many of us put on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, and MySpace.  But are we free to just post such content? We have free speech to say what we want under the First Amendment, right?

Not so fast. While we are certainly free to post anything that is originally created by us, we can’t place other peoples’ content online without their permission.  For example, if we see an article that we like, we cannot copy it in its entirety and place it in our blog. We also can’t copy it in its entirety and email it to our distribution list.  We need the author or copyright owner’s permission in order to do so (unless the article falls within the parameters of the Fair Use Doctrine, but that's for another post)

So what about those "Share" buttons we see neatly arranged at the beginning or end of an article? So long as we are sharing a link (URL) to a particular article, citing the source of the article, and letting the person(s) to whom you are sharing know where you found the article, you can continue to enjoy spreading the news without worrying about a claim that you are infringing on someone else’s work.

All in all, we can still share online as Mom originally taught us.  We just want to share responsibly, so we can avoid unpleasant consequences under copyright law.