Professionals utilize blogs for a variety of reasons: for marketing and promotion, to highlight trends and relevant issues, or to be of service to the community. In many cases, professional blogs do not generate original content, but rather provide summaries and links to primary sources, which readers can further investigate. However, professionals, like all bloggers, must be careful to identify their sources and avoid simply copying content from other sites. Failure to give credit where credit is due, even in blog posts, can violate ethics rules and lead to costly plagiarism claims.
Earlier this week, a California tax-focused law firm filed suit against a Connecticut attorney in federal court, accusing him of copping several of the firm’s blog posts for use on the attorney’s website and interviews. According to the complaint, the California firm constructed numerous blog posts relating to state and federal tax problems on its website, which were made available to the general public.
After posting its content, the California firm learned of the defendant firm’s website, which contained links to a blog allegedly authored by the defendant attorney. The California firm claimed that many of the defendant attorney’s postings were substantially identical to portions of the plaintiff firm’s blog posts and that the defendant did not attribute any portion of the post to the plaintiff firm. The California firm claimed that it attempted to contact the defendant attorney to request that he remove the content from his website, but did not receive any response.
Thereafter, the firm filed a copyright application for each post, which were registered with the United States Copyright Office. When the defendant failed to remove the content, the California firm filed a claim for copyright infringement and unfair trade practices, seeking injunctive relief and money damages in excess of $100,000.
The internet is replete with copied content, and professionals run the risk of accidentally incorporating portions of others’ work into blog posts and articles without attributing proper authorship. Professionals can mitigate the risk, however, by following a few simple rules. First, professionals should avoid the urge to cut and paste content into a post. When drawing from other sources, professionals should be sure to keep an up-to-date list of citations, or include direct links. Additionally, many problems can be avoided by drawing from a variety of different sources. When citing to only one source, it is easy to fall into a trap of simply reciting the post. Lastly, professionals must review their work and double check content to ensure that it reflects their own contribution. Failure to remove other’s work could violate ethics rules and lead to costly litigation.