Content Curation Rules

You need content to get found on the web. But how do you get content if you don’t have the time or resources to create it yourself? Content curation is often touted as an easy way to solve the problem, but the concept is often poorly understood. Here’s what curating content is all about as well as guidelines on the right and wrong ways to curate content.

“We’re no longer living in the information age; we’re living in the editorial age.”

This quote, making its way through the classrooms and corporate training centers, is one of the most substantial changes to the Internet that few people realize and it could alter the way you take on content marketing. But you have to do it ethically and legally.


When the Internet was in its infancy, users were uploading information at a profound pace. Statistics now show that more than 90% of all data in existence was created in the last 3 years than all of history combined.

Because there’s so much available information, finding what’s important is next to impossible for the individual user. This is why we now live in the editorial age. It was only a few years ago that the most profitable websites were those that produced high-quality content. Today, content curators—websites like Buzzfeed and ViralNova that comb through existing content and push it to their viewers—are some of the most profitable.

As a content marketer, you know that creating high-quality content is difficult and time consuming. The newest research shows that it takes about 5 hours to produce something people want to see. Content curators simply find existing content already online and bring it to their own site(s).

RELATED: Top Ten Legal Oversights That Can Shut DownYour Website

What Curation Isn’t

First, content curation isn’t plagiarism, scraping, or copyright violation—or shouldn’t be. If you’re copying somebody else’s work and placing it on your website as your own, that is illegal by any legal standard. That includes a blog article, image, video, or anything else that somebody created. Just because you found it on a website, blog, or Google Images doesn’t mean you have the legal right to use it. Web content, just like all other creative works, is protected by copyright laws.  

Although the Internet, by its nature, is about sharing, copying someone else’s original work without permission and posting it on your website is not the way to curate or share content. In fact, even if you name the source and post a link to the original post, you may be guilty of copyright violation, and could get sued.

Not only is copying other people’s work illegal, it can cause search engines to demote your site in search results, and cause advertising networks like Google Adsense to ban you.

What is Fair Use?

Content curators often cite fair use as the reason they are allowed to use somebody else’s content. Fair use allows a person or organization to use somebody else’s copyrighted work under certain circumstances. Examples include using a copyrighted picture as part of a criticism or commentary piece, a parody—think Saturday Night Live, for example, or news reporting—using a small excerpt from an organization’s website in a story.

Fair use is determined by the courts on a case by case basis. There are few hard and fast guidelines. This makes it difficult for content creators to fall back on fair use as a basis for curating because they would likely not have the financial resources to defend a lawsuit in court. Don’t use fair use as your defense for curating. Instead, follow the curating rules to keep content owners happy.

RELATED: Top Content Marketing Mistakes

What Curating IS

Ethical content curators credit and highlight people that create outstanding work.  Unless they have specific permission from the creator to use the entire piece of content, they write their own content saying why a piece is worth reading and then link to the original. If they do have permission to use the original piece on their own site, they do it in the way specified by the creator, including credit lines and links to the original content.

How to Stay Legal

1. Ask for Permission- The copyright laws, remember, are applied on a case by case basis. Thus to be safe, even if you’re using just a small excerpt from someone else’s content, always contact the copyright holder of the content and get permission in email or writing. Then, be sure to quote and link to the original source. 

2. Add Your Voice- Remember, cutting and pasting is plagiarism. It’s also lazy. If you simply post a YouTube video on your website using Google embed player code, you’re not breaking any laws but if you aren’t adding your own comments or additional information, your readers may not regard your site as high-quality and your site probably won’t rank well in search. 

Smart content curators add their own content to material they curate. For instance, they comment about the original article and perhaps expand on the concept based on their own industry knowledge. 

3. Use Other Sources- Don’t base an entire post on one piece of curated content. Research the topic and study multiple articles and videos, don’t just rewrite a single piece of content. 

4. Take it Down If They Ask- If you receive a request to remove content from your site, do it immediately. As long as you comply with the request, you probably won’t hear from the person again.

5. Look for Shareable Content- Sites like YouTube, Vimeo, many blog sites, and major news organizations include options for sharing their content on your own site through RSS feeds, widgets, and share links.  

RELATED: How to Identify and Prevent Content Theft

Bottom Line

There’s a lot of debate about curation. Even the legal community disagrees on the subject. It’s always best to remain on the conservative side of these issues.

Don’t get into a legal battle. They’re time consuming and expensive and you probably don’t have a team of lawyers at the ready to defend you if a content owner decides to sue you.

If you’re going to use somebody else’s content, the safest way to defend yourself is to ask for their permission or use something that is clearly shareable. Otherwise, if you’re going to curate content, talk to an attorney. Your business is much too important to risk.

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