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Conundrum: What if I can't find the original source for articles and graphics? Hint: start here.

We just updated our own set of editorial guidelines for republishing content in today’s digital environment. It's yours to use as long as you refer to it as the SPRC Fair Use, Attribution Guidelines. The revised guidelines reflect the continuing evolution of what is generally considered fair use. There is a middle ground between the standard of express written permission and what is trending toward a Wild West with no permissions and no attributions. We hope this will at least start a conversation. The full document follows:

SPRC Fair-Use/Attribution Guidelines

Because Smart PR Communications represents technology and scientific companies, we perform a significant amount of research for media releases, articles, case studies, and other marketing materials. Today we perform almost all of our research online. Because of this, attribution is becoming more and more of an issue. Finding the original source, getting contact information, and obtaining permission for digital material is daunting.

Another issue that technology companies, in particular face, is whether materials they create need to be reviewed by partners mentioned in the document. A final consideration is Google’s penalty for posting duplicate content. These guidelines are meant to provide a commonsense approach to attributions, permissions, review, and Google optimization.

We realize that some people are going to find these guidelines too lax and other are going to find them too stringent. We expect that—our intention is to establish guidelines for our own business and start a conversation on new editorial realties.


It has become very difficult to find the source and contact information for material posted online. But if there is an email address for the source, send a courtesy email stating what you will be using, how you will be using it, and that you will attribute it to that source. Note that you are not asking for permission. Unless the material you plan to use is lengthy or controversial (negative or unflattering), explicit permission is not necessary (see the Fair Use note at the end of this document).

General Rule: copy exactly, attribute correctly, and notify the source if possible.



Graphics embedded in digital articles are often attributed to the creator. In that case, make an attempt to email the source and advise what you will be using and how you will be using it. Less clear are attributions for Google and other search engine image collections.

General Rule: Any images that are watermarked require permission. Images that name the artist, but otherwise list no contact information, must be attributed to that artist and include the caption. Images with no identifying information other than a caption need to include the caption.

3rd party review

Waiting for a 3rd party review can create a lengthy delay—which is a big issue with media releases. Because of this, we seek review and approval only where absolutely necessary. Marketing materials, for technical companies in particular, often include the names of vendors, contract holders, and other partners. Some of these companies address the issue of brand use in their contract with the technical company. In that case, contract stipulations need to be followed. For the majority of partners that have no use stipulation, follow the General Rule.

General Rule:

  • Case Studies: If the partner or any of its employees are mentioned by name, review and approval is required.

  • Media Releases, Articles, Non-Academic Research Papers: If the material referring to the partner originates from material generated by that partner and in the public domain (website, marketing materials, award announcements, etc.) we do not seek approval. However, we do seek approval for any material that appears in quotes. To avoid delay in time-sensitive media releases, we recommend confining partner references in releases to partner-generated material.

  • Other Marketing Materials: If the partner or any of its employees are mentioned by name in promotional materials, send the preliminary text document to the partner for review and approval.

Google considerations

To avoid duplicate search results, Google does penalize websites publishing material that is obviously not the original source. Google's defines duplicate content as substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Google will penalize duplicate content published on your website if:

  • It is a verbatim copy of the original source (especially without attribution).

  • Visitors don't find it useful, i.e. they quickly click back to Google after visiting your site.

  • Your copy isn't the original, most reputable, or most usable version; and doesn't include fresh commentary or critique.

  • Your site doesn't have enough original content to balance all the republished content.

General Rule: There is some room for interpretation, but to be on the safe side; reduce the length to exactly what you must use and add additional insightful content. You can also avoid the penalty by linking back to the original source. To avoid having your original content identified by Google as duplicate, post it to your website, copy the URL and add it to the end of the original document. If anyone asks to use your document, it should be with the understanding that they will include the URL.


Summary of the Fair Use concept [1]

Fair use is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. In the U.S., the Fair Use Doctrine permits limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder. Examples of Fair Use include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving, and scholarship. The 4 determining factors are:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether it is of a commercial or nonprofit/ educational nature

  2. The nature of the copyrighted work (i.e. fiction or non-fiction)

  3. The amount of the portion used in relation to the entire copyrighted work

  4. The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

[1] From Wikipedia entry Fair Use:

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