PB173: How to Use Quotes in Your Blog Content Legally and Ethically

Posted on January 1, 2017

Using Quotes in Your Blog Legally and Ethically

In today’s lesson, I want to talk about using quotes on your blog.

I’m regularly asked – particularly by new bloggers – what the etiquette and legalities are around using content that others have written in your own content – or the practice of quoting others.

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It’s a good question because quoting others and building upon their ideas with your blog can be one way to improve the quality of your content, serve your readers and build relationships with others (the ones that you quote).

Having said that – using the content with others in inappropriate ways is something I see semi-regularly and it can really hurt (if not destroy) your reputation if you don’t do it right.

There’s no need to worry though – it’s not hard to get right and in this podcast I’m going to share why quotes are beneficial, why you need to do it right, some tips on how to do it and lastly I want to share some ways to use quotes on your blog to create different types of content.

Listen to this podcast in the player above or here on iTunes.

Further Resources on How to Use Quotes in Your Blog Content Legally and Ethically



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Hi there, and welcome to Episode 173 of the ProBlogger podcast.

My name is Darren Rowse, and I’m the blogger behind ProBlogger.com – a blog, podcast, event, job board, series of eBooks, and a real book, too – all designed to help you as a blogger to grow your blog to create amazing content, to build community and engagement with your readers, and hopefully to make some money from your blog as well. You can learn more about ProBlogger over at ProBlogger.com.

In today’s lesson, the last of 2016, I wanna talk about using quotes on your blog. I’m regularly asked, particularly by new bloggers, “What’s the etiquette and legalities around using content that other people have written on their blogs or in their books or in other forms? How do you use that in your own content?” or I guess, questions about the practice of quoting other people. It’s a great question because quoting other people and building upon their ideas with your blog’s content can be one way to really improve the content on your blog. It’s a great way to serve your readers (and we’ll talk a little bit more about why that’s the case) and to build relationships with others, the people that you quote.

There’s a lot of benefits of having quotes in your content, but having said all that, using content from others in inappropriate ways is something that I do see people doing semi-regularly. It can really hurt, if not destroy your reputation as a blogger, if you don’t do it the right way. That might sound a little bit harsh, but I have seen people’s profiles and credibility really ripped to shreds because they haven’t done it right. That might sound harsh. I just want to say right up front, there’s no need to worry. It’s not hard to do right. This podcast is all about doing it the right way.

In this podcast, I wanna talk a little bit about why you should use quotes, how to do it right, some tips on practically how to do it, and I wanna share some ways that you can use quotes and begin to practice using quotes in your content to create different types of content.

You can find today’s shownotes, where I will link to some further reading on this topic that we’ve published on ProBlogger and some reading that I found in researching today’s podcast at ProBlogger.com/podcast/173. I do just wanna take a quick moment to say that this is the last episode of 2016. Christmas was yesterday here in Australia. It’s summer. It’s hot. The air conditioner is on. You might be able to hear it in the background. The New Year is just a few days away.

I just wanted to pause for a moment to wish you all very well for the end of the year. If you’re celebrating Christmas or another holiday, I hope you’re having a happy holiday period. I just wanted you to know that I am incredibly grateful for you listening to the ProBlogger podcast in 2016. It has been an amazing year, and I’ve had so much fun putting this show together for you. I look forward to continuing to do it in the new year.

It’s summer holidays here in Australia, so over the next few weeks, I may not quite keep up with my weekly schedule. I’m gonna do my best, but family comes first this time of year for us. It is hard to find a quiet patch over the school holidays to record, but I just wanted to let you know that I will get back to a regular posting schedule towards the end of the January. I look forward to sharing with you some news of some changes that are happening to ProBlogger late in January, early in Feb. Thanks for listening, and if you are listening to this from 2017, the future, Happy New Year to you. Okay, let’s get on with today’s show.

Very quick disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and what follows is not legal advice. If in doubt, seek the advice of a lawyer.

Today we’re talking about quotes, and I wanted to start off by talking about why quotes are actually something that I think blogs should use on their blogs in some way and in different times.

Firstly – and I saw this right from the beginning of my blogging – quotes actually were a big part of blogging back in 2002, when I started. In fact, I would say probably 10, 15, 20% of my blog posts usually started with me bouncing off the idea that someone else had started on their blog, so it was very common for bloggers to be linking to one another and quoting one another in the early days. A lot of that quoting and a lot of that linking now seems to happen on social media, but I do think it’s something that we could rediscover as bloggers.

Quoting someone else is a good way to add a little bit of credibility to your articles and to make them more interesting and informative to your readers as well – to be able to add to an article that you’ve written something like, “I’m not the only one who thinks this; so does this person, who said, …” and then to use their quote. That can add a little bit of credibility to your ideas. It makes your arguments stronger. It can also lift the quality of your posts, to include insights and thoughts of other people. In doing so, I think it really serves your readers to be able to add a bit more depth to your articles.

You also will learn a lot by seeking the ideas of others. In putting this particular podcast together, I’ve read three or four articles, all of which are linked to in today’s shownotes. I’m using the ideas of other people, and I’ll acknowledge those in the shownotes as well. You’re gonna learn by seeking out the ideas of others and using quotes.

The other thing I’ll say about quotes as a benefit of using them, is that sometimes you’ll get noticed by the people you quote. I quoted Bob Burg a few months ago. He’s a guy who came up with the quote, “People do like to do business with those that they know, like, and trust.” I used that quote in an article, and Bob Burg tweeted me the other day saying, “Thanks for quoting me” and began a conversation. People will notice you if they’re still alive and they’re active in the social space. They will notice you when you quote, and this can be the beginning of win-win relationships. Who knows what might come out of those? There are some really good reasons for using quotes on your blog.

Now why do you need to do it right? Firstly, I would say there’s ethical reasons for it and legal requirements in some cases to give credit to those whose words and ideas you are using. If you wanna be seen as a good bloke or a good person in the blogosphere, it’s an ethical thing that you wanna do, but there’s also legal reasons to do it. You certainly don’t want to be caught plagiarizing by taking the words and ideas of other people and presenting them as your own. If I think about the way that I see people misusing the words of others, sometimes it’s done with intent to hide the fact that they’re not your own words, and other times, people do it without really knowing what they’re doing.

You wanna really be careful. It’s an ethical thing. It’s a legal thing. It’s just the right thing to do. In my opinion, it shows your readers that you’re well-read and that you’re an ethical person as well – and to actually show your readers that you’ve gone to the effort to find out what other people think on this idea and then to quote them – I think shows your readers that you’re going above and beyond. You’re not just sharing your thoughts; you’re going to the effort of finding other people’s thoughts as well.

It’s going to get you in trouble in the long run, both in terms of your credibility but also legally if you don’t do it right, so please learn the basics of how to do it and do it right.

How do you do it right? Again, I’m not a lawyer here, and I’m gonna link to some more legal advice in today’s shownotes, but here’s what I do when I’m quoting someone. Firstly, I always put quotation marks around the words of someone else’s so that it’s explicitly clear that it’s not my words. I am quoting someone else, and to actually put those quotation marks around the words of someone else’s is just good form. It shows in your content the words that someone else said.

Number two – I always name the author. Give the person the credit. If the author is Mike Stelzner, quote Mike Stelzner. If the author was someone long gone, then name that particular person, Shakespeare. It doesn’t really matter. Name the person.

Number three – provide a link back wherever possible, either to the exact content that you took the words from. If you took the words from a blog post, link back to that blog post. If you took the words from a podcast, link back, if you can find it, to that podcast. If you took the words from a video on YouTube, link back to that piece of content on YouTube. If you are unable to find the exact piece of content or if it was in a speech, for example, which there’s no recorded piece of content, find some other meaningful page of that person – if you can, their homepage or a social media profile – and link back to that. I think it’s a really good form to link back.

There’s a few reasons to why I suggest this and why I think it’s really important to go to the piece of content that you are taking the words from. I think it actually serves your readers to be able to link to that. It shows your readers where you took the words, and it allows your readers to go and have a look at the extended piece of content around those words. If you are taking a few words from an article that you’ve written in a blog post, it gives your readers the ability to go and have a look at the context of those words and see what else is said in that particular article. I think that serves your readers.

It also serves the person whose words you are quoting. It hopefully drives some traffic and some more interest in them – helps them to grow their profile and their credibility, which helps to grow that relationship between you and them as well. If you can’t find the specific piece of content, a link to their Twitter account or to their homepage, if they have them, or some other meaningful place for that person. If the person has no online presence at all, I guess you could link to their Wikipedia page or something like that as well. But if it’s someone like Shakespeare, then everyone generally knows who that is and just using their name is good.

The other question I get asked a lot is, “How much content can you take from someone else?” This is one where I really – am not a lawyer, but generally for me, I would only ever really take one to three sentences, a paragraph if you like, from someone else’s article. If I wanna use more, I would always try and seek permission. There have been times where I’ve taken longer chunks of content, but I’ve gone to the blogger or I’ve gone to the podcaster, and I’ve actually asked permission to do that.

I used an excerpt from Tim Ferriss’s podcast on this particular podcast a few months ago, and I sought the permission of Tim because I realized that what I wanted to share was more than just a few sentences. It was a chunk, and he graciously allowed me to do that.

The same has happened for me in blog posts as well. The advice that I’ve read today on this is that the amount that you can use generally depends upon the proportion of the text that you are taking from the overall piece of content that that person has created. For example, I read one piece of advice today that said taking 250 words is okay, if it’s from a book, but if you’re taking a quote from an article that might be 1000 words long, you might wanna only choose 50 or 70 words from that article. Really it depends upon the proportion of the overall piece of content that that person has created.

I’m gonna leave some further reading on that, particularly from a woman by the name of Jane Friedman in today’s shownotes. Again, you can find the shownotes at ProBlogger.com/podcast/173.

I generally err on the side of quoting less and telling my readers to go and read the rest of the article. I much prefer to say two sentences, and “if you want to read more, this person has more great advice. Go and find out the rest of what they have to say on the topic in the article that they’ve written.”

The other thing I’d say about the how-tos of quoting is that sometimes you need to modify the quote. That is either to give the quote a bit of context – you might wanna add a few words to it so that your readers actually understand the context of what’s being said, or you may think it’s best to take a few words out to shorten the quote perhaps or just to find the meaty bits of it. The way that you modify that – I think it’s really important to be very clear about what you have modified. If I’m adding a word or two to a quote, just to explain the context, I would always put that in brackets, so I usually use square brackets. If I am taking words out, I would always add in three dots, the ellipses to show that you have removed something from that particular quote. You might choose a sentence at the start of a paragraph and then one towards the end and put them together and then put the dots between that. Always be really clear about how you’re modifying that particular quote.

A few other pieces of advice. One is I would encourage you always to add your own thoughts to a quote. I do see bloggers from time to time just taking a quote and putting that up as a blog post. Now that’s totally fine to do. It’s, as far as I can see, a legal thing to do. It’s even ethical as long as you’re linking back to that person, but I think it would serve your readers better if you would just talk a little bit about why you think that quote is good – so a paragraph of introduction as to why you’ve chosen this quote, a paragraph or two at the end about what you would add to it, how you would qualify what they say, telling a story that illustrates the point of the quote, adding something extra into the quote I think is a really important thing to do.

Two other things that I wanna say about giving credit online, and this is where you’re not just quoting people, but you’re actually giving people credit for different things. Firstly, I think it’s really important if you are not quoting the exact words of someone else but you’re referencing an idea that they have shared, I think it’s really good form and probably a legal thing as well to give them credit for inspiring what you’re writing.

To give you an example of this – back in 2008, I came across a video presentation from a guy called Chris Brogan at ChrisBrogan.com. Chris, many of you will know – he was doing a lot of writing and thinking back then on blogging, social media. In this video, he talked about how he uses his blog as a home base and how he uses his social media as outposts around them. He had a description and a diagram there that kind of illustrated his blog as a home base and his social media profiles as outposts. I loved the idea, and it gave me the language to explain how I had been using social media as well.

Whilst I never really directly quoted Chris – I never actually took a sentence of his and put it in quotes on my blog, I often shared the idea of home bases in our posts. I talk about it quite regularly in keynotes. I talk about it in blog posts. I’ve talked about it in live videos, and I always try and reference Chris within that context. When I show that diagram, in a webinar or in a keynote, I will always say, “I got this from Chris Brogan.” Just by giving him credit in that way, I’m not quoting any specific words, but I’m using his idea. I’m trying whenever I’m doing it online to also link back to his blog as well, particularly the video that he first created. Although I went searching for it the other day, and I couldn’t find it online, so I guess today I would just be linking to ChrisBrogan.com.

Giving credit for ideas is a little bit different to taking a quote, but I think it’s really important to do as well.

The other one that I will mention is that I try and give credit if I found something that I’m using or quoting, and I found it through someone else. For example, if Chris Brogan (to use Chris again as an example) wrote something on his blog about something that Mike Stelzner said. We’ve got three people here. If Chris writes about something that Mike Stelzner said, that I wanted to quote, so I might use the quote from Mike, but I would always add into that that I found it via Chris Brogan. You would often see this as a “via” – via Chris Brogan. Then you link to Chris as well as linking to Mike.

As far as I know, this isn’t a legal requirement to do, but I think it’s really good form. It helps with credibility. It helps in building relationships, but it also can serve your readers as well. If I link to the original article by Mike Stelzner and took the quote, and then also link to Chris, where I found it via, it actually gives my readers two links to follow up. It actually will hopefully – if I link to the places that both Chris and Mike talked about that idea – used in a lot more context and different viewpoints as well. Again, it’s not a legal requirement as far as I know, but I think it is good form, good etiquette (if you like.)

Let me finish this podcast by talking about a few different ways that you can use quotes on your blog. I’m taking these from an article that we actually published on ProBlogger earlier this year, which was written by Ali Luke. You can find that article in the shownotes. It’s actually a really great article on how to use quotes on your blog, and it does cover some of the information that I’ve just shared with you.

How can you use quotes on your blog? Probably the most common way is where you use a quote inside a longer piece of content that you’ve written. You might be writing a post on any topic really. On our photography blog, we might write a post on aperture, and we might use a quote from Chase Jarvis, who’s a photographer, who once talked about aperture as well. In this longer post that we’ve written, we might use a sentence that Chase said. It’s really a minor part of the article. It’s not the key focus of the article, but it’s just a quote that we think adds a little bit of weight to what we’re writing about and a little bit of interest, a little bit of depth. It’s almost like a “By the way, this is what Chase thinks about this.” This is probably the most common way of using quotes. This is almost the way I use quotes, when I was writing essays at university and high school to make a point, to beef up your argument (if you like). That’s the most common way of using quotes, but you can also use quotes in many other ways.

One way that Ali suggests in her article is putting together a list of quotes – inspiring quotes or helpful quotes around the theme. You might choose a theme. On ProBlogger, we might do a post on using comments to grow your blog’s profile – commenting on other people’s blogs. We might go and search the internet for what other people have said on that particular topic because it’s a very common strategy that people talk about – is how to grow your profile of your blog is to leave comments on other people’s blogs. We might go around and find a variety of comments on that and quotes from articles that people have written. That could be the blog post itself. Here’s what 20 people think about this topic. That’s one way that you might use quotes. You might add a little bit of information at the start and the end of the post.

In a similar way, you might actually do what’s pretty commonly referred to today as a “roundup,” where you actually interview experts on a topic. You might take that same topic and send out an email to 20 bloggers that you know, asking them almost like a single question interview, “Do you have a comment on this particular question?” Rather than just going and searching the internet for what people say and what they’ve already written, you might actually come up with a question that you want to put to 10-20 people and then do a roundup in that way. Very similar kind of end results for those articles, but one is looking at what people have already written and one is by seeking out a new quote on a particular topic.

Another way that you can use quotes in your articles is to start your article with a quote or end your article with a quote. Ali, in her article, points to Alex Blackwell from The BridgeMaker, who does this. It’s a standard form for his blog posts. He almost always starts his post with a quote. His readers come to expect an interesting quote that gives context for what he then goes on to write about, and it becomes just a part of his style and his voice. That might be something that you can do, if you find a pertinent quote that sets the scene for the article that you’re going to write.

The other type of content that you could create with quotes is to just use the quote itself as the article. As I mentioned earlier, this is something I generally wouldn’t do myself. I have seen bloggers do it. I think Michael Hyatt does it from time to time. He uses graphic blog posts, and Ali links to that in her article. I would generally take a quote and add to it in some way. I’d introduce it. I’d talk about why I think it’s important, what I agree with, what I disagree with, add my own thoughts on that as well, but it could be the basis for the post itself. Rather than using the quote to add a little bit of weight to something you’ve already written, you might start with that quote and then add a little bit of weight to that.

The last thing I just wanna touch on – and this is really probably the topic for another whole episode, but I just wanted to touch on the idea of using photos on your blog. This is more difficult. I generally won’t use someone else’s image without permission or without that photo being licensed in a way that it can be used. The reason being is that when you use an image, you are using the whole work of that photographer.

Remember before I was saying, when you take a quote from a larger piece of content that someone has written, you are taking a small part of what they’ve written and using that in your own. That fits into what’s called “fair use.” But when you take an image, you’re actually taking the whole thing that that photographer has created, so you really don’t want to do that, unless you have explicit permission from the photographer or if the photographer has licensed it for you to use with a creative commons license or if they’ve uploaded it to a stock photography site, and you’ve bought the license for that.

That is a bigger topic that we will hopefully cover in 2017 in some way, but I just wanted to add that in because I know people would probably be thinking about other types of content that you can use as well. I guess, the same goes for video. If you go to YouTube and you see a video that you want to use, generally the video creator either gets the opportunity to allow that video to be embedded or to disallow that. If you can see the embed code, generally that’s permission for you to use that video, so that would be the only time that I would do that. But again, always be crediting that. If you’re using the embed code, that is built into that, don’t present that as your own video in any way. I guess, that’s the last thing that I would finish it off with.

If you’re using someone else’s ideas, if you’re using their words, don’t try and pull the wool over your readers. Admit to and shout from the rooftops that you’re using someone else’s ideas. It’s good form. It’s etiquette and a legal obligation that you have, and it’s gonna serve your readers in the long run.

I hope you found this useful. I hope you found that it answers any questions that you have about using quotes. I would encourage you, as your next blog post, to actually create a piece of content around a quote or using a quote in some way. I think it’s a good habit to actually go and seek out what other people are saying on a particular topic that you’re writing about. Good form.

Over the next week or so, I challenge you to create some content that uses quotes, and if you want to share that piece of content in the ProBlogger Challenge Group on Facebook, do a search for “ProBlogger Challenge Group” on Facebook and you’ll find our group. Apply to join, and then you can share that piece of content in that group.

You can find a further reading on today’s topic at ProBlogger.com/podcast/173. If you wanna share the quote post that you write in the comments there, you’re welcome to do that.

I hope that you found these useful, and I hope that you are having a great end to 2016. I really do look forward to chatting with you in 2017 as well. Why don’t you bring your friend along with you? Share the ProBlogger podcast either as shownotes or let them know about it on iTunes. Look forward to chatting with you in the New Year.

How did you go with today’s episode?

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The post PB173: How to Use Quotes in Your Blog Content Legally and Ethically appeared first on ProBlogger Podcast.


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