In order to build a successful and popular blog, one has to provide a constant stream of new and exciting content.
Though that seems easy enough, writer’s block, deadline pressures and scheduling problems often create roadblocks to making it happen. Sometimes, no matter how hard one tries, the “write it yourself” approach is not always the answer.
Fortunately, on the Web, there is a near endless supply of content available for use on other sites. Thousands of authors and artists are freely offering up their work with the intention of someone picking it up and spreading it across the Web.
All one has to do to take advantage of this is know where to find these works and learn how to use them properly.
Joining the Commons
The richest and most popular source for free content is Creative Commons Licensed material.
Creative Commons Licenses, which are favored by many bloggers and Webmasters, permit reuse and copying of content with certain restrictions. Those restrictions will vary depending upon the license chosen but may include elements such as restrictions on commercial use and restrictions on the creation of derivative works (new works based upon the original).
Creative Commons licenses are designed to be easily readable by both machines and by humans. They offer easy to understand deeds, such as the one I use on my own site, and embed meta data into participating sites to make the information easily searchable.
This has lead to the creation of several CC search engines. Yahoo!, for example, has a special Creative Commons search engine that lets users locate Creative Commons licensed material by keyword and license type. Flickr also has Creative Commons built into its advanced search function to help locate CC licensed photographs and SpinXpress offers a similar search for audio.
When looking for CC licensed work, it is important to make sure to choose the license that is correct for you. If you want to make any modifications to the work, be sure that you choose a license that allows derivative works. If you are wanting to use the work on a for-profit site, ensure that the material allows commercial use.
Also, it is important to note that all licenses require attribution, generally in the form of a link back to the original author. Finally, all CC licenses require an acknowledgment that the work is being used under a Creative Commons license, usually done by providing a link to the original Creative Commons deed.
If you can meet those simple requirements, you’ll quickly find that a whole world of high-quality material opens up to you, material that is ready to be copied, remixed and republished.
Many of these sites have tens of thousands of articles, all of them categorized, tagged and searchable. They make it very easy to find articles on the subject your want and, though quality will vary from author to author, the editorial guidelines at these sites will keep the formatting, length and style largely consistent between works.
These policies, however, will vary from site to site.
The main drawback from using free article sites is that the material on them has, most likely, already been used significantly on the Web. Most articles, even on the larger articles sites, appear many times on the Web. Also, since the main purpose for submitting articles to a free article site is to create inbound links and reputation, the attribution requirements are almost always much more strict than with CC licensed material.
Still, if one does not mind these linking requirements, article sites can be a fast and easy way to get targeted content for a site or blog. It may, however, require sifting through a lot of mediocre articles to find one worth publishing, but at least the content will be in the right format and the correct length before it is copied over.
Public Domain Works
Both CC licensed works and article sites are works that their creators have voluntarily made available for reuse. However, many works are available to be copied simply because either their copyright expired or it was never eligible for copyright protection. Those works are said to be in the public domain.
Project Gutenberg, is a collection of tens of thousands of eBooks that are in the public domain. The site contains such classics as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Pride and Prejudice among many others.
All of Project Gutenberg’s eBooks are available for download in text format and can be copied and reused at will. Since the copyright has expired, no royalties are owed.
To find more recent works, look for items that have been dedicated to the public domain by their authors. Also, since all works created by the U.S. government are placed into the public domain upon creation, it is perfectly legal to copy and reuse any content from U.S. government sites and reports.
It is important to note that the same does not apply for other countries or state governments in the U.S. Other government bodies have different policies on copyright protection for their works.
With public domain works, there is no legal requirement to attribute the source. Despite that, most would agree that there is an ethical obligation to cite sources properly. However, the format of that attribution is completely up to the person copying the work.
The problem with using public domain material is that most of the content in the public domain is very old, from the early 1900s on back, and that the digital public domain is very limited. It can be very difficult to find content that is relevant to your site in the public domain.
Also, any work in the public domain likely has been used elsewhere on the Web many times before. Since there are many people looking for public domain work to use and limited items available, most of the “good” items have been used again and again.
Still, the public domain is the ultimate in worry-free licensing. All items that have been placed in the public domain, either through expiration or dedication, have lost all copyright protection. If you can find public domain work to use, it is almost certainly the ideal.
Whenever you publish work on your site that you yourself did not create, it makes sense to take a few precautions to avoid potentially serious problems down the road.
- Double Check the License – Don’t take the search engine’s word for it, double check the license on the site itself and, if you are not already on the author’s homepage, check the original site and see if he or she has had a change of heart. Though the latter is not legally required, it is still polite and avoids a conflict if the author forgot to remove his license at one location.
- Check for Plagiarism – Take a moment and punch a sentence or two of the work into Google or paste the entire article into ArticleChecker. Check to see if the work exists under more than one name. If it does, do not use the work unless the original source can be verified. While doing this, also check and see how many times the work has been used on the Web and if it is still worth reposting.
- Fact Check the Work – Finally, if the work makes any statements of fact that might be defamatory to someone, take a moment to double check the information. Though fact checking the whole work isn’t practical, it makes sense to follow up on any statements that might lead to legal issues.
It’s important to remember that, though the work is not yours, that the site is and you are still responsible for what gets posted on it. Thus, it pays to take a few moments and check a work out before posting it, if nothing else than to be safe.
Though writing content by hand or hiring a professional to do it are always the best means of obtaining content for a site, there is a wide variety of free content available for when neither option is practical.
If one knows where to look and is careful about how they use the content they find, they should have no trouble filling up their blog with high-quality content.
Best of all, it’s a symbiotic relationship, one where the blog owner gains free content for their site and the original author gains exposure for their work. It’s truly a win-win situation where everyone gains something.
With so much free content available under such a wide variety of clear licenses, there’s no reason not to jump in and start looking for new content.
You might be surprised what you find.
Note: I am not a lawyer and nothing in this article is to be taken as legal advice. Though it is based upon extensive research into copyright law and the DMCA, it is not to be taken as legal truth. If you have a question about these issues, it would be best to take it up with an attorney.
Jonathan Bailey writes at Plagiarism Today, a site about plagiarism, content theft and copyright issues on the Web.