CityThe rules surrounding what material you can and can't use online can seem a bit confusing at times. Many people don't make much of an effort to hide their misappropriation, taking images and videos from other sources with no acknowledgment as to where it came from. Others make an effort to try and cite the source, but fall short of the accepted standards despite their best effort. You could argue that individuals from the latter camp are making a good faith effort, and that those from the former simply aren't aware of the rules and think that anything online is fair game. But ill intent or not, using work that doesn't belong to you can land you in hot water if you're caught.

The most recent example of misuse comes from the sphere of online news sites. Political prognosticator and data maven Nate Silver took to Twitter to call out Vox for using an infographic from his site, FiveThirtyEight, without permission in one of its articles. The Vox article in question, on the relative popularity of the current field of presumed presidential candidates, featured an infographic created by FiveThirtyEight. And while the text of the article acknowledged the original source, the story didn't feature a link back to the original FiveThirtyEight piece.  This drew the ire of Silver, who lashed out at Vox on Twitter:  

The resulting firestorm prompted Vox to correct the error (the post now features the requisite link), as well as a lengthy reply from Vox editor-in-chief Ezra Klein. In the post, Klein acknowledges the site's failure to properly cite the work of FiveThirtyEight and offers Silver an apology. He goes on to offer his thoughts on the nature of aggregation in the modern age of media, and the problems inherent in it. It makes for an interesting read on the difficulties of balancing proper citation against the imperative of driving traffic to your own site, and the struggles of an experienced writer to manage these requirements further illustrates the pitfalls that can surround potential misuse.

Before using any images, songs, videos or graphics online, stop and consider the implications. Is this something that belongs to you? If not, do you have permission to use it? Citation isn't as simple as a casual line noting where you got it from. If you're unsure about your right to use something, it's probably best to err on the side of caution, and if you're unfamiliar with the rules of citation, any number of style manuals can help you do so properly.


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