How to Quote without Getting into Google’s Duplicate Content Filter?

There's one question people keep asking me: how to quote other people without being affected by Google's duplicate content filter. Yes, the most widely-used way to cite is to put the abstract in quotes and link back to the source. But is everything really that simple?

There are no "official" Google rules as to citing. The only thing we know is that Google loves unique content and filters out duplicate entries. There are no set standards as to how many duplicate words or set of words should be found in two documents for them to be considered duplicates or partial duplicates.

So the only thing we can do is to make educated guesses. And to make them really educated, let's take a look at official rules and known precedents:

Quoting without getting into duplicate content filter

According to the Law

Can you copy someone else's creative work at all? The short and simple answer is NO:

  • You cannot copy someone else's article even if you link back;
  • There is no definitive rule as to how much you are actually allowed to copy.

There one exception though: "Fair use"

How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?

Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances

Here's the best way to demonstrate what Fair use it: try to honestly answer the following question (example by 10 Big Myths about copyright explained which is a great read by the way)

Are you copying / quoting an article from the New York Times because you need to criticize / comment on / illustrate / clarify its quality / its statements / its conclusions, etc, or because you (1) couldn't find time to write your own story, or (2) didn't want your readers to have to register at the New York Times web site?

The following clarifications also must be taken into account:

  • You are not allowed to copy more of the work than is needed to make the commentary (see point (1) above);
  • Your quote should not harm the commercial value of the work (see point (2) above).

Here are a few examples of Fair use as cited 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law:

“quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; ....”

Here are more examples from Stanford Copyright & Fair Use section (I found the one especially interesting that contains actual numbers):

Fair use. A biographer of Richard Wright quoted from six unpublished letters and ten unpublished journal entries by Wright. Important factors: No more than 1% of Wright's unpublished letters were copied and the purpose was informational.

Actual Web Practice

More often than not, the rules across the web are quite fuzzy. You are just not allowed to copy "large" abstracts and you are required to link back to the source. However there are a few cases where requirements are more or less precise.

For example, user generated news reporting site NowPublic doesn't allow to quote abstracts larger than 1000 characters (it is not actually clear to me what this number is based on).

Highlight: When you find a passage of text that you’d like to share (up to 1,000 characters)...

Also, there was a well-discussed copyright scandal in the past which must be mentioned here as tightly relevant: Associated Press went after webmasters for publishing its article titles and brief excerpts, claiming "Fair Use" does not permit this practice. As explained by Jim Kennedy, a vice-president and director of strategy for Associated Press,

We get concerned, however, when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste. That's not good for original content creators; nor is it consistent with the link-based culture of the Internet that bloggers have cultivated so well.

The Conclusions:

  • Quoting large abstracts can be bad fashion (make it no more than a couple of sentences);
  • Quoting just because you can't find better words for saying the same thing is bad. Quote only when the quote makes sense: you need to comment on it.

Disclaimer: I am not a law expert, neither am I authorized to give any legal advice, the post above was created purely for informational purpose to list and organize sources of the topical information.

The guest post is by Ann Smarty, an SEO Consultant and Diretor of Media at Search & Social Media, LLC. If you like what she is doing go ahead and contribute to her new fun project: Funny Screenshots.

Post image by josh.liba

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