Elan Morgan is a writer and web designer who works from Elan.Works, a designer and editor at GenderAvenger, and a speaker who has spoken across North America. They believe in and work to grow both personal and professional quality, genuine community, and meaningful content online.

Copyright, Fair Use/Fair Dealing, And Hotlinking: What You Need To Know

The internet is often looked upon as a Wild West, a new frontier not bound by traditional rules. It seems an apt metaphor, but in truth it's overly simple, and to treat the web as a place where anything goes not only shows how very ten-years-ago your thinking is but also belies your ignorance of the very real social, professional, and legal implications of your actions.

I have been giving this some very serious thought since I received the following alert in my e-mail inbox two days ago:



I have Google Alerts set up to notify me every time "Canadian Weblog Awards" is mentioned on the internet, and because the Canadian Weblog Awards are my baby, my pride and joy, I was pleased to see that they had been mentioned somewhere. Or at least I was until I followed the link in question to a particular page at BlogsCanada.ca.

If you look at the url of that particular page, you can see that it once led to an entry featuring an interview with 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards winner Laura of Mindful Merchant, a page whose screenshot you can see at the left (click on the image to view at full size). That screenshot shows a copy of the interview I originally did on the Canadian Weblog Awards site, a copy which BlogsCanada.ca's Allan Janssen saw fit to publish in its entirety without acknowledgement of me or the article's place of origin.

I sent the offending link to both Aidan Morgan and Redneck Mommy, because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing my being acknowledged anywhere, and I needed to pick their brains to know what to do, because, lo, they are very wise.

Although I was livid at the blatant repurposing of my content, content that I had worked hard to create along with another blogger whom I hold in high regard, I chose to send Janssen the following e-mail, which e-mail's wording, I think, exhibits a great amount of restraint:
My name is Elan Morgan, and I am the founder of the Canadian Weblog Awards. An interview that I wrote, conducted, and published on the 2011 Canadian Weblog Awards site has been republished without permission and acknowledgement, pictures and all, on BlogsCanada.com here: http://www.blogscanada.ca/2011/02/21/an-exclusive-interview-with-2010-canadian-weblog-awards-winner-laura-of-the-mindful-merchant/

The original article can be found here: http://www.ninjamatics.com/canadian-weblog-awards/2011/2/7/an-exclusive-interview-with-2010-canadian-weblog-awards-winn.html

Please remove the offending article immediately. I expect this to happen within the next 24 hours.

Thank you.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed that Janssen had not removed my content as requested, but he had instead added a link to my original interview's url. Although the issue had now moved from one of possible plagiarism to one of copyright infringement, he did not remove my material as I had requested. My irritation was only compounded when he replied to my e-mail about the matter. (I have chosen not to republish his e-mails here, as I do not want to copy his words without permission, so you will have to take me at my word that there was no tone of apology or good will.) To paraphrase, he asked me what the hell was wrong with me and claimed that links he had posted to my content in the past on BlogsCanada.ca were a public service to me.

For serious reals.

Does anyone remember the ridiculous debacle that was Cooks Source's blatant plagiarism in November 2010? Because this incident immediately brought it to mind. Cooks Source republished an original online article written by Monica Gaudio without permission, and the magazine's editor, Judith Griggs, in a great display of both ignorance and unwarranted condescension, sent an e-mail passage to Gaudio that, rather than make any apology for her theft of the material, claimed that the web is considered public domain and that Griggs had been doing her a service.

The truth is that what is on the web is not, as a whole, considered public domain simply because it is on the web. Unless bound by a contract stipulating otherwise, you own your own works, even if those works are on the internet. While fair use (United States) and fair dealing (Canada) allow for the limited reproduction of an author's work, wholesale reproduction of your work without your express permission is not acceptable, and it is considered copyright infringement.

Obviously, I was not satisfied with Allan Janssen's simple addition of a link at the end of my complete article, not only because he had republished my entire article without permission but also because he had republished photographs which I had been granted permission to use by Laura of Mindful Merchant who, in turn, had been granted permission to use them by the photographer, Sara McConnell. Janssen was trampling on copyright left, right, and center at BlogsCanada.ca, and he seemed to think that not only was it acceptable behaviour, but also that I was ungrateful for pointing it out.

Again, I showed great restraint when I sent him the following second e-mail:
Allan, there is nothing the matter with me.

I have truly appreciated your linking to the Awards. Thank you for that. An excerpt and link back to the Awards is always appreciated, but there are three major things that are wrong with your recent choices in publishing my interview:
- republishing an entire article without permission is never okay anywhere either on or off the internet.
- you did not initially attribute this article with a link back to the original content. (You only added it after I emailed you about it).
- when you published the images with the interview, you used the links to where I have the images hosted. This is called hotlinking, and it chews into a person's bandwidth.

I am perfectly happy with excerpts and links that send people back to my site where I have the full content I work hard to create and maintain. Republishing entire articles without permission and hotlinking to someone else's images are quite another matter, though, and neither are considered good practice. They are called copyright infringement and theft of bandwidth.

Please remove the article in question (http://www.blogscanada.ca/2011/02/21/an-exclusive-interview-with-2010-canadian-weblog-awards-winner-laura-of-the-mindful-merchant/) immediately.

If you choose to remove all content relating to the Canadian Weblog Awards, that is your prerogative.
Did I mention the hotlinking? Hotlinking is when you link directly to another site's hosted images and other files, which means that every time someone views that image or other kind of file on your website, that file is still data being transferred from the other website's host, which then incurs extra charges for that other website's owner every time your site is loaded. Someone else ends up paying for your content to be seen which is why hotlinking is considered bandwidth theft.

When I viewed the code for my stolen article on BlogsCanada.ca, it was apparent that Janssen had simply cut and pasted the code from my original article without bothering to host the images himself (which I am glad he did not, because that would just have compounded theft upon theft):



Janssen finally removed my article from BlogsCanada.ca after I sent my second e-mail request for him to do so. He has let me know that he will no longer link to the Canadian Weblog Awards and will now only publicize the Canadian Blog Awards, which is another weblog awards program in Canada that is run by popular vote.

We at the Canadian Weblog Awards are more than fine with this arrangement, but we do think that it is extremely important for Allan Janssen at BlogsCanada.ca and everyone else, for that matter, to have at least a general clue about what copyright and fair use are and how to go about republishing works by other authors both on and off the internet.

If you value your relationships online, both personal and professional, it only makes sense to brush up on your knowledge of copyright, fair use, and hotlinking. In the name of being a good netizen, I am sure most of us can agree that copyright infringement and bandwidth theft are not the way to any website owner's heart.

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Before You Republish Another Person's Material On or Off the Internet


  • Familiarize yourself with copyright.
  • Familiarize yourself with fair use/fair dealing.
  • Unless otherwise noted by the work's author, assume copyright is in place.
  • Secure an author's permission before republishing their content.
  • When sharing an author's file, such as an image, do not hotlink.


  • What Is Copyright?


    "Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. Copyright does not protect ideas, only their expression." (see the full Wikipedia article)


    What Can Be Copyrighted?


    In Canada, "...[copyright] protection is effective even without registration" and is generally held until 50 years after the creator's death, as long as the material meets the following requirements:
  • the material is literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic,
  • it covers the expression of the idea but not the idea itself,
  • the expression of the thought must be original if not the thought itself, and
  • the creator of the work must be connected with "...either Canada or a member of any number of other international trade or copyright treaties, including the Berne Convention."

  • In the United States, the following works are copyrightable: literary works (articles, stories, journals, computer programs, and pictures and graphics), architectural blueprints, music and song lyrics, plays and screenplays, audiovisual recordings, and sound recordings. Further information about copyright in the United States can be found here.

    If you are unclear about copyright, there are two good rules of thumb that you should follow to keep you in the clear:
    1. Unless it is otherwise noted, assume that an item is copyrighted.
    2. If you did not create the material you want to use, then obtain permission from the material's owner before you copy either a large portion of it or copy it in its entirety.

    What Is Fair Use?


    "...[Fair] use is any copying of copyrighted material done for a limited and "transformative" purpose such as to comment upon, criticize or parody a copyrighted work," and it can be done without the copyright owner's permission.

    In Canada, fair use is referred to as "fair dealing".

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    Capeesh? Capeesh.

    Now go forth, good netizens, and respect thy neighbours!

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    ADDENDUM: You can find further and more involved information about internet law in general at the Internet Society. Thanks for the tip, Justin Caron!

    I also think it is important to make clear at the 30-comment point that, while Allan Janssen's excerpting and linking to my content in the past at BlogsCanada.ca was more than welcome, I never gave him carte blanche permission to republish my works in full, as he is claiming in the comments here.

    Long Shadows In The Sun

    I Designed A Pair Of Pop-Up Banners For Saskatchewan Publishers Group, And I Am One Proud Mama