Ethics And Copyright For Bloggers

At the South African Food Bloggers Conference, Jeanne presented a section on the ethics in blogging. As I studied Law and Communication Law at university which covered ethics and copyright, I did not write down any notes. I listened really closely as it was a refresher on what I already knew. However, in order to share what we were told, I should have jotted down the key points. This post is inspired by what I heard, and the gist behind it is from Jeanne’s ‘lecture’.

I am going to begin with an edited explanation from Wikipedia:

Ethics (also known as moral philosophy) is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and bad, noble and ignoble, right and wrong, justice, and virtue.

Q: is it right to blog a recipe without acknowledging the source or inspiration?

A: No! If you use a recipe let your readers know it is not your own.

Q: It it right to copy other people’s ideas or photographs

A: no it is not. (I will do a separate post on Copyright)

One of the branches of ethics is: descriptive ethics, about what moral values people actually abide by.

Abiding by a moral value when it comes to blogging can make a huge difference in how a reader treats our blog. If you follow a theme, acknowledge the originator. When you are taking part in a challenge, let your readers know who instigated the challenge. If you read a recipe book or a recipe post and are inspired by it tell your reader. When you get a free meal and blog about the restaurant let your readers know it was a free meal. And, let them know at the beginning not at the end. If you blog about a product or service you have not paid for, state so.

Descriptive ethics is a value-free approach to ethics, which defines it as a social science (specifically sociology) rather than a humanity. It examines ethics not from a top-down a priori perspective but rather observations of actual choices made by moral agents in practice. Some philosophers rely on descriptive ethics and choices made and unchallenged by a society or culture to derive categories, which typically vary by context. This can lead to situational ethics and situated ethics. These philosophers often view aesthetics, etiquette, and arbitration as more fundamental, percolating “bottom up” to imply the existence of, rather than explicitly prescribe, theories of value or of conduct.

Etiquette in blogging means you should not be copying recipes or ideas without acknowledging them. Now, I am probably guilty of posting a recipe for a meal another food blogger has recently posted. This could be pure coincidence. I read a variety of food blogs, including all the food24 blogs, and some WordPress and blogger ones and so I really try not to blog about a meal someone has recently blogged about. Maybe, someone else on another platform is blogging the same meal on the same day – co-incidence. But, if I am inspired by someone I state so. I think it is important to let people know we are inspired by their food.

The study of descriptive ethics may include examinations of the following:

  • Ethical codes applied by various groups. Some consider aesthetics itself the basis of ethics– and a personal moral core developed through art and storytelling as very influential in one’s later ethical choices.
  • Informal theories of etiquette that tend to be less rigorous and more situational. Some consider etiquette a simple negative ethics, i.e., where can one evade an uncomfortable truth without doing wrong? One notable advocate of this view is Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”). According to this view, ethics is more a summary of common sense social decisions.
  • Practices in arbitration and law, e.g., the claim that ethics itself is a matter of balancing “right versus right,” i.e., putting priorities on two things that are both right, but that must be traded off carefully in each situation.
  • Observed choices made by ordinary people, without expert aid or advice, who vote, buy, and decide what is worth valuing. This is a major concern of sociology, political science, and economics.

All I can really say is this – do not take credit for something that is not your own – you can end up alienating your readers.

Another issue that was dealt with at the Food Bloggers Conference was copyright. Wikipedia offers the following:

Copyright is the set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work.

The first step is to put a copyright © mark onto your blog. You do not have to pay for this! The copyright should be something similar to:

© “Your Name” and the year from when you first started blogging to the current year.

You can insert additional Copyright notification into your photographs, which is recommended. However, do not think that because you have done so, your photographs will not be copied and reproduced elsewhere. With modern computer software, anyone can copy an image and crop out your copyright notice!

Copyright will also exist for your recipes as long as they are original and unique, and not copied from someone else! However, this is not a safety measure against your recipes being copied. Just one change could render the new recipe unique! Blog scraping has become popular and Wikipedia has this to say:

Blog scraping is the process of scanning through a large number of blogs, usually daily, searching for and copying content. This process is conducted through automated software. The software and the individuals who run the software are sometimes referred to as blog scrapers.

Scraping is copying a blog that is not owned by the individual initiating the scraping process. If the material is copyrighted it is considered copyright infringement, unless there is a license relaxing the copyright. The scraped content is often used on spam blogs or splogs.

A blog scraper who gathers content that is copyrighted material is considered in violation of the law. Blog scraping can create problems for the individual or business who owns the blog. Blog scraping is particularly worrisome for business owners and business bloggers. Scrapers can copy an entire post from an independent or business blog. The duplicated content will include the author’s tag and a link back to the author’s site (if that link appears in the author’s tag). However, most blog scrapers copy only a portion of the content that is keyword-relevant to their splog topic. By doing this, the keyword relevancy of the scraper’s site is increased. Secondly, by not scraping the entire post, any outbound links are eliminated which means their search engine ranking is not reduced.

Additionally, scraped content can appear on literally any type of splog or RSS-fed spam site. This means an unsuspecting individual could find their creative or copyrighted material copied onto a site promoting pornography or similar type of content that may be offensive to the original author and his/her audience. This may be damaging to the original author’s reputation.

If for any reason you think you have been subjected to scraping, or you notice a recipe or a photograph of yours on another site do the following:
1. take a screenshot and save the shot, making sure the date is shown

2. send an email to the blogger notifying them they must delete the copied content within a given period of time

3. then decide if they do not do so, are you prepared to go to an attorney – as that is the next step

Another issue is this – can you take a photograph in a restaurant? The answer is yes! You have paid for the dish, and therefore it is yours – the chef has basically transferred ownership! So, click away.

One has to rely on other people’s integrity – but stand up for yourself. If you are being copied, or if someone is using your ideas or recipes without acknowledgement let them know you are on to them.

I have left in the links from Wikipedia in case you are interested in reading more than what I have put here. My friend Cindy has done a post on plagiarism. Please take a look at her post for an insightful comment on the subject.

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