Copying without permission is theft

You’re responsible for your organization’s newsletter, and the other day, you read a great item in a magazine. It’s perfect for your organization’s audience, so you reprint it in your newsletter. If you didn’t get permission to do so, you’ve just broken the law.

“Wait!” you protest. “I put the name of the magazine under it, so it’s okay, right?” Wrong. That was a nice gesture, but you’ve still violated international copyright law. Attributing the source doesn’t make it legal.

“Hold on!” you suggest. “Doesn’t that fall under Fair Use?” Good try, but no, it doesn’t. The concept of Fair Use applies to specific situations, such as quoting the item in an academic paper. It doesn’t apply to stealing someone else’s content and using it in your publication.

‘We’re not stealing! We’re a good cause and using it to promote that cause!” So would it be okay to rob a bank to raise money for your organization? Would a judge give you a pass because you’re a good cause?

What you’re not understanding is that you’re taking and using someone else’s property without obtaining their permission. When a writer creates an article, it legally belongs to him (or her). When a magazine publishes an item, it belongs to the magazine.

“We’re doing a favor for the writer by providing a bigger audience!” I earn my living by writing, and people pay me for what I do. If you take something I write and use it without compensating me, that isn’t doing me a favor. It’s stealing my property.

If you’re going to use content from other sources, protect yourself and your organization by formally obtaining permission. Fail to do that, and you’re eventually going to find yourself on the losing end in court. It’s stealing, and I don’t think you’re a thief.