Citing sources for your blog

Citing sources

Are you citing sources for your blog? Giving a shout-out to the bloggers who have paved the way for your latest post with other great resources? Offering your readers more quality information?

Blogging is commonly considered an informal space – but that doesn’t mean the rules of copyright don’t apply. As blogging and online forms of writing and disseminating information have become more popular, the so-called ‘grey area’ of how copyright law applies to contemporary online spaces has come under greater legal scrutiny.

Bloggers have been legally pursued, and at times prosecuted, for copyright infringements and defamation. But it’s not just a matter of following the law and avoiding punishment for sneaky deeds online… like passing someone else’s ideas off as your own (which, by the way, is a big no-no). Citing your sources is just good blogging etiquette.

If you’re discussing someone else’s works or ideas, it’s polite to recognise them as a source. It’s good mojo to link back to their site or original article. And it’s blog-savvy to direct your readers to more information.

The legal stuff
Always assume that the works of others are protected by copyright, until you are able to confirm otherwise. The duration of copyright is generally for the lifetime of the creator, plus an additional 70 years, and in most countries copyright protection is automatic – meaning copyright automatically applies as soon as a work is created. It applies to literary works such as books, articles, song lyrics and blog posts; artistic works like paintings and graphic art; as well as films, sound recordings, and a whole host of other creative works.

There are a number of exceptions to copyright infringement – chiefly use that is considered ‘fair use’ or ‘fair dealing’ for the purposes of criticism, review, parody, research and reporting. This is of particular importance if you want to quote sources and ideas on your blog.

Generally speaking, you can use quotes that may not be considered a substantial part of the original work, with substantial being defined as essential, distinctive or important. It’s pretty vague, but trust your intuition on quotes. ‘Quoting’ does not give you, or anyone else, permission to copy and paste entire paragraphs. A common rule of thumb when considering whether a quote is substantial, is that quality is deemed more important than quantity.

Another important note about copyright is that it only applies to the material form of an idea, fact or style – not the actual idea, fact or style itself. This is a significant distinction, and generally means you are welcome to report and discuss ideas and facts in your own words.

Clear as mud? When all else fails, use your common sense, and err on the side of caution.

How should I cite my sources?
Attribution is all about giving credit where credit is due – and providing your readers with a greater experience by offering them more information. It’s a win-win! So how do you go about citing your sources?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to attribution. Some bloggers simply link a relevant phrase back to the original content, while others include a hat-tip to the author, or an attributed quote. For example, if this post were discussing the copyright of images, and had used the WP Themes post (Legally) sourcing images for your blog as a resource for ideas on image creation, we may cite that source one of the following three ways:

  • If you can’t find the right image to accompany your blog post, why not create your own art?
  • WP Themes suggests creating your own art to compliment your blog posts.
  • In a recent blog post, WP Themes offered this suggestion for bloggers stuck for image ideas: “Crack out some coloured pencils or your kid’s paint set if you’re really feeling inspired, but creating your own art for your blog can be as easy as opening up one of the pre-loaded software programs on your computer, or downloading a free version.”

One style of attribution might stand out for you, or you may play with a range of source-citing options until you find one that fits. Pay attention to what other bloggers are doing, and figure out which attribution method best suits the style of your blog.

Love a good plugin? There are even a range of WordPress plugins specifically designed to help with source citing and attribution, including Simple Attribution, Attribution 2000, and Open Attribute.

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