How Share Alike Copyright Can Hurt Your Brand And SEO

by Jason Falls |

I recently altered my Creative Commons copyright as it pertains to Social Media Explorer. I switched from an open, share and share alike copyright to a non-commercial, share and share alike copyright. While this might seem like a minor alteration that has little implication on anything, I wanted to share with you the agonizing (literally) decision because it has implications on how you might consider applying copyright to your own publishing.

The free and open world of social media advocated by the purists is kind of a, “just share, it’ll be okay,” mentality. Open source, open copyright, don’t be stingy, etc., mantras have created this vast universe of free flowing content and gladness that is the blogosphere. I’ve benefited from the share and share alike movement greatly.

6th Creative Commons Japan Seminar, 27 Septemb...
Image via Wikipedia

But the more you learn about the implications of that approach to your content, the more you see the disadvantages. When you openly allow people to use or reposition your content, you expose yourself to two major business risks: damaging your branding and damaging your search value.

Damaging Your Branding

It’s bad enough that my friend Michael Stelzner named his site Social Media Examiner (awfully close to my blog name) and that I guest posted there a few times to help him get some early content. I’ve now been cited as the author of “Social Media Examiner” on a number of occasions (Doesn’t offend me. I love Mike and Examiner.) and even had one person ask me why I changed the design of my blog away from the eye-catching jungle theme (which I never had … that’s Mike’s site). But when sites like Social Media Today (a great resource, by the way) literally pull the entirety of your content and publish it as if you were authoring it for them, the attribution waters become very murky.

Social Media Today aggregates great blog posts on the world of social media from around the web. If I’m not mistaken, they do so with each author’s permission and with respect to their respective copyrights. They have always had my permission to do so and have respected my copyright. And I do like the site because it pulls together good posts I may not have found on my own. I do believe there is some original content there, but scrolling down their posts recently, I found that most of their recent posts were repositioned from elsewhere.

However, as Social Media Today’s audience has grown, so has the mistaken attribution that I write for Social Media Today. While I did reach out to them several years ago to ask how to be featured on their site and sought their active use of my blog posts, none of my content there has ever been exclusive or even written for their audience. I write for Social Media Explorer — my blog. If SMT wants to use that content, until now, they’ve been welcome to it.

While I certainly don’t feel as if being associated with Social Media Today is a bad thing, I am concerned that the lack of clarity in who authors what for them takes away from each author’s independent and respective blog, website, business and brand. Sure, it’s a trade-off. Up and coming authors get increased name recognition and exposure, some inbound links and enhanced credibility. But there comes a point where the brand confusion can be problematic. I’ve reached that point … good or bad.

Damaging  Your Search Value

Perhaps the bigger problem here is that sites like Social Media Today reposition the same content. While I don’t consider myself to be an SEO expert and duplicate content penalties from the search engines can be circumvented in various ways, simple logic tells you the same content on two different sites consistently can cause problems.

I first noticed the problem with Tweets and inbound links. My post of the day would be tweeted with a link. Awesome! Someone was sharing my content. But the link would point to the post on Social Media Today. Not awesome! I deserve that web traffic on my site.

Then I noticed references to my material linked from other blogs and websites. Awesome! Someone took a further step and said, “Jason’s content is good enough, I’m going to link to it from my content.” But the links pointed to the post on Social Media Today. Not Awesome! I earned that inbound link. It should come to me.

The big kicker was when I began doing some searches for keywords I’d targeted and found that the Social Media Today content was competing with my own for actual Search Results, not just components of good SEO value. This is when I realized having my content there was hurting me. Social Media Today has a big enough audience and is a credible enough website that the same content on it can feasibly beat out Social Media Explorer for the same search term, though the content, author, etc., is all identical. Not good.

Selfish vs. Selfless

I realize there’s a thick layer of self-serving attitude underlying all this. The social media purists will be critical of me for being selfish and wanting to horde my content. But the business value of what I sacrifice when doing so is large enough for me to want and need to do so.

This decision is 100-percent pro-Social Media Explorer and has nothing to do with being anti-Social Media Today. I love what SMT does, fully endorse and support their efforts. But also feel that the reasoning above is good grounds to now ask them not to use my content. They are a commercial venture, so my copyright would now prohibit them from reusing Social Media Explorer posts.

How This Effects You

If you haven’t already, you certainly should walk through the Creative Commons licensing exercise to determine what type of copyright to apply to your own material. But know that it’s not a determination you should take lightly or in haste. Think about the possibility that a perfectly fine and upstanding effort, like Social Media Today, may want to use your content. Does SEO value mean that much to you? Will you want to protect your brand from confusion with others?

Know and understand that you can say, “Anyone can have it and alter it!” but you can also say, “Anyone can have it but you can’t alter it.” You can also say they can have it if they’re non-commercial but not if they’re a commercial entity. Or you can say, “It’s mine … all mine! Bwahahahaha!”

In all seriousness, though, copyright is an important issue to consider for your content. It’s also important to know the benefits of being open, the benefits of being closed and the challenges of each as well. Hopefully my recent change can help you at least think your copyright through.

What Say You?

Am I right or wrong here? Is being also published at Social Media Today of greater benefit to me? Have I made a sound decision? What would you do in similar circumstances? What copyright do you apply to your content and why?

The comments, as always, are yours.

(NOTE: After writing this, I discovered Social Media Today now allows authors with registered SMT accounts to control the feeds sent to SMT for publication. This was not always the case and doesn’t change my decision. I have removed my feed from my profile page there.)

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).