By Pawan Deshpande published November 22, 2013

Is Your Content Curation Ethical? A 10-Step Checklist

ethics word cloud-content curationCuration itself is nothing new — museums have used art curators for centuries — but online content curation is still in its early stages. The early years of the internet were like the “Wild West,” and because it was so new, there were few ethical or legal guidelines to police behavior.

With new legislation governing online copyright and commerce, that’s all changed. Many content curators, though, are still unsure about what constitutes ethical curation, and how they can share third-party content without running afoul of copyright laws. 

Here’s our 10-step checklist to help you curate ethically and effectively. These are just guidelines, of course. For specifics on copyright law, you may want to consult an intellectual property lawyer.

1. Draw from a variety of sources

The first step in ethical content curation is making sure you’re not leaning too heavily on one or two curation sources. Not only is this boring for your readers, but it could mean you’re profiting off of that original creator’s work. Avoid this by curating from a variety of credible sources — both the bigger players in your industry and the up-and-comers. This positions you as an expert who has a hand on the pulse of what’s new and interesting in the field, and gives your readers a wider diversity of opinions and ideas. 

2. Prominently link to the original source

Show respect for the original content creator by crediting that person and linking prominently to their original work — rather than to other content that also curated their source material. By prominently, I mean you should not just bury the link at the bottom of your post, disguise it by using the same color font as the rest of the article, or make the font microscopically small. These practices go against the principles of ethical content curation, and should be avoided.

3. Avoid “nofollow” links

Using “nofollow” tags deprives the original content creator of SEO credit. We’ve already established that ethical curators link to the original source to give them credit, but “nofollow” links negate some of the goodwill created by these links. Avoid them wherever you can.

4. Quote sparingly

It’s fine to excerpt a short section of an original content piece to give readers a feel for it (this generally falls under the category of fair use). But quoting long excerpts gives the reader very little reason to click through and read the full article — plus, it could blur the lines between fair use and copyright infringement. Choose the shortest, juiciest quote you can find, and write the rest of the curated piece in your own words.

5. Insert your own point of view

Ethical curators don’t just summarize or regurgitate pieces from other sources. They explain why it matters, how it impacts readers, or what may happen in the future. Adding this human element is a great way to work your voice into the conversation and incorporate brand-appropriate keywords that may not have appeared in the original piece. In addition, make sure your commentary is longer and more detailed than any sections you’re quoting.

6. Fill in the gaps

Is there something the original article didn’t mention that your audience needs to know? Add this information as you’re developing your curated content. Other curators may be sharing the same third-party stories that you’re using, but this additional context will help your piece stand out from the crowd.

7. Use thumbnail images

Images are also subject to copyright law, so don’t reproduce the full image from the original piece without getting permission first. Instead, it’s OK to use a smaller, thumbnail image, or to substitute a royalty-free image that conveys a similar theme without violating copyright laws. You can find images that are available under a Creative Commons license by using Flickr or Google’s advanced search option, and you can check for licensing issues using TinEye’s Reverse Image Search.

8. Give readers the option to close an iFrame or share bar

Including share bars and iFrames around the original publisher’s content helps maintain the look and feel of the curator’s property, yet it still helps drive traffic to the original site. Using an iFrame is not unethical, but because some readers find them annoying, you should give them the ability to close the iFrame and view the original article directly on the publisher’s site.

9. Add a new title

Never copy and paste the original author’s headline. Instead, write your own headline so that you’re not competing with the original author in search results. Retitling also gives you the chance to play up certain aspects of the piece that the author may have downplayed, as well as to incorporate words or phrases that will resonate more strongly with your particular audience.

10. Claim Google authorship, as appropriate

If you’ve followed the ethical guidelines above, you should have no hesitation claiming Google authorship for your curated content. But if you’re simply summarizing a piece without retitling it and adding your own commentary, you probably shouldn’t claim Google authorship because you haven’t authored anything new.

Do you have additional tips for using content curation fairly and ethically? Let us know in the comments.

Looking for more advice on content curation? Check out what the experts had to say at Content Marketing World 2013. Access to a wide range of presentations is available through our Video on Demand portal. 

Cover image via Bigstock

Editor’s note: Curata is a Content Marketing Institute benefactor, which is a paid supporter of our website and content creation activities.

Author: Pawan Deshpande

Pawan Deshpande is the founder and CEO of Curata, a Boston-based company offering content marketing software used by thousands of marketers around the world. He spearheaded the first-ever panel at SxSW on Content Marketing in 2011, and was a 2014 Finalist for MarketingProfs B2B Marketer of the Year. Pawan was an engineer at Microsoft and Google where he was awarded patents in social networking and machine learning. He previously attended MIT where his graduate thesis won top departmental and international awards. You can contact Pawan via Twitter @TweetsFromPawan or on LinkedIn. Interested in the state of the content marketing industry in 2016? Download Curata's 2016 Content Marketing Staffing & Tactics Study.

Other posts by Pawan Deshpande

  • Steven W. Giovinco

    Thanks for the great article and tips. Curating content can help build and boost a reputation but if used incorrectly can be harmful (such as using images without permission).

    • JessieCoan

      Yes! You nailed that one on the head Steven. If curation is implemented correctly – it can greatly benefit both parties. Thanks!

  • David

    Good tips but crediting is still a problem in the news industry, IGN, Gamespot and RPS sometimes don’t bother crediting the original source, they also only link to each other in a closed circle. Is there no way to stop this type of crediting?

  • Teresa Acosta

    Appreciate the checklist.

  • ‘TC’ Teresa Clark

    Hello Pawan,

    What an informative article this is! Enjoyed reading it and agree with all of these points to make sure that our content is ethical. Here is something that I like to do to ensure that my content is ethical and relevant for readers.

    I create content that comes from the people that know the most about why someone buys, the customer. Consumers are a vital source when creating content to help improve your business’s success. Not only will they share stories about their experience with you, they will also have quirky antidotes that can help boost the morale and performance of your business.

    Thanks again for this insightful piece,
    ‘TC’ Teresa Clark

  • mwaage

    I enjoyed this post…lots of great tips, especially noted fair use and attribution. Thanks Pawan for stating what sometimes gets lost in cross post processing!

  • Shahnawaz Sadique

    Nothing new in that post.But still a thumbs up for a nice presentation..

  • Alexandra

    Thank you for useful tips! I’ve discovered several new things for me here.

  • Daniel Horning

    Thanks Pawan! I’ve always tried to give credit when due, but with only a vague sense of what that actually looks like. Now I’ve got an organized guide (to start with, of course I’ll consult the appropriate legal authority on copywrite law if/when I need to, legal jargon, release of liability, etc. haha).

    Pulling from multiple sources (tip #1) will be hard in the moving industry, with few authorities to look to for inspiration – but I guess that means the space is ripe with opportunity. Thanks again!

  • FeedCurator

    Wow, informative article, In curating a content your point of view is very important because you represent your viewers and be realistic that’s the viewers want to see. You can try feed curator to filter information relevant to your niche.