Aggregation doesn’t have its own AP Stylebook, but I do think that reputable publications have gotten beyond the point where blog posts consist of a sentence or two of original content and then an overly generous excerpt of someone else’s work. Either point a reader toward someone else’s article with a few sentences saying as much and then a few sentences of the original source to pique the reader’s interest, or add value to the piece being quoted—analysis or a comparison to other sources—rather than simply reprinting someone else’s words and reaping clicks.
The conversation being had by writer Sara Morrison is a good one: How much should one writer excerpt of another’s work before it becomes not just a tool to reinforce a point but crosses the line into “aggregation” or even a violation of copyright?
Yes, this is a conversation that’s been going on for just one day less than blogging, and the ease of copying/pasting something someone else wrote brought with it, has been around.
In my experience there are a couple good rule of thumbs to keep in mind when considering when to stop pulling quotes and when to make your own points with your own words:
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you: Where’s the line between you feeling grateful that someone appreciates your writing to excerpt it verbatim and feeling like they’re just ripping you off? Stay on the positive side of that line.
- If you don’t feel like you can make your point without someone else’s words you may not have a point of your own to make. If that’s the case then maybe it’s best just to give them a link and @mention on Twitter.
- If all else fails, keep it south of 25%. Any more than a quarter and you’re kind of ripping someone off.
Does it matter whether or not the post or story in question is behind a paywall? No, not really. In fact, that may actually be a situation where excerpting less is the appropriate reaction since you’re even more explicitly working against the business interests of the media organization in question.
The social web used to be about freely sharing credit and realizing that your own arguments were strengthened by linking out to others who provided ancillary proofs and points that supported yours. But often people now want to keep people on their own sites at all costs. So there’s excerpting that walks right up to or even crosses the line into theft, or all the links in a post just go to previous posts or to corporate profile links, all housed on that site.
It really is as simple sometimes as just not taking the low road. If you feel like a post is beginning to contain too many pull quotes from someone else – and this has happened to me many times in the past – tear it down and try writing what you want to say without the use of those quotes. If they still have some value as supporting points then add them back in sparsely. Just going through that exercise, though, may show how much they’re not needed (though you should absolutely still link out where it’s called for) and you’ll likely wind up with a stronger piece of your own in the end.