Can I copy and paste an article I found on another website to better the SEO of my Snap! Website?

Alexis Wilke's picture

Copying and Copyright History

Up until the 15th century, when Gutenberg invented the first mechanical press using an existing screw press, only scribes would duplicate books, all by hand. It was time consuming and each copy generally included changes (enhancements and also errors.)

Between the 15th and 17th centuries, with Gutenberg's invention, the number of books grew quickly and more authors were born. This also created the fast spreading of a lot more information between many more people. Governments across Europe quickly imposed regulations of the press in an attempt to reduce the sudden freedom of speech1. The new laws gave rights to editors so a new work could not be duplicated by others for a certain number of years.

In the 18th century, Europe eventually created a Copyright Law to protect writers instead of printers. The law was later changed to include all art work such as music and painting, and more recently films and software2. Such protections were no stranger since inventors had a set of patent laws to protect their inventions. Such patent laws are found in Greece since before Christ.

What about copying on the Internet?

The Copyright Law applies to everyone in countries were it is applicable3. For instance, Spain has been known for its lack of copyright laws for software making it legal to copy software that is protected in other countries.

Now the important question is: what is copyrighted and what can be copied?

In general, websites where the content is copyrighted by the author or a company will have a copyright notice at the bottom of each page. I have such a copyright at the bottom of this blog post... This means I hold the rights of this content for as long as I live (at least.)

Some content is either very old or the author(s) decided that it would be better to make it publicly available to all at no charge. Such content is in what is called the public domain. You can do anything you want with this content (including put your name on it, although no one will believe you're the author!)

The last type of content is specially licensed content. That content can generally be copied as long as you follow the license requirements. There are many such licenses, for example, one may prevent you from copying the content altogether without first getting an authorization. Others may give you the right to sell or give the content away as long as you do not change anything. Finally, some may give you the right to make changes but restrict those changes to given areas and always with mentions of what you changed.

So, whatever data you want to copy, make sure to first understand how it is protected.

Note: It has been said that anything published on the Internet automatically enters the public domain. I would think that is not the case, yet it is correct that all public content is accessible by all, so copying such content make little if any difference. (especially from newspapers since they anyway all talk about the same thing... noticed that before?)

The SEO impact of copying others web pages to your Snap! Website

Gtk Dialog Warning sign.
Gtk Dialog

You should be particularly interested about the impact copying can have on your website. After all, you're working hard on your site and you probably do not want to mess it up, do you?

It is a known fact that Google is the major search engine and thus you must make sure that your content be present in Google and found well. This means having a good Page Rank.

When you copy an entire page from another website to your own, Google detects it and the result is: you get a really bad rank for at least that page. Repeat that too often, and your entire site will eventually be banned from Google search results.

I think this is a good enough reason to not scrape a complete web page! What do you think?

But I've seen that paragraph taken from a book on that other site?!


It is permitted to copy part of a book as long as you:

  • Clearly quote the content
  • Copy the content exactly (that means no modifications of your own)
  • Attribute the quote to the author

The next question is: how long can the quotation be? Make it as long as necessary to be useful in your work. Just don't over do it.

Note that if you saw a complete paragraph taken from a book without quotation and attribution, then it was illegal.

Hmmm... But this website has an entire post from someone else???

Ah! You have a good eye! 8-)

So... How do you know that was from someone else? Because the name of the author was around the post? Yes!

Actually, some blogs are built up from others articles. It is a quite interesting way to build back links for those authors and a good way to build credibility for the blog owner. Obviously, the posts will be in some way in link with the owner's content since it would otherwise make no sense to get such a post.

However, in regard to copyright and copying, having an article by someone else does not mean it is a copy & paste work from another website. Actually, if someone offers you to post an article on your website, you want to refuse it if that article was already posted somewhere else because otherwise Google might very well flag you as the bad guy...

Note that none of this is legal advice! Use your own judgment... And if unsure, try to contact the author and if you can't don't use his work.

  • 1. Some dissident editors got the capital punishment for not abiding to the new laws.
  • 2. In the U.S., software algorithms can also be patented. Europe is trying to introduce a patent for software.
  • 3. About 17 countries in the world do not have any copyright laws or do not abide to international copyright laws. Note that this does not include China as some may think.