>May I quote the Internet in my story?Posted: July 8, 2008
>You’re surfing the Internet and you find THE quote that will make your story. All you have to do is insert it right . . . there.
Wait. There’s no question that the Internet is a gold mine of information, but beware. Some of that gold is fool’s gold, and some of the gold has been already been claimed by someone else.
Let’s talk about the fool’s gold first. Any fool can put anything on the Internet. That does not mean it’s accurate, legal or fair. Even Wikipedia, which sounds very official, is written by individuals who don’t necessarily have any credentials. Before you go quoting the Net, check the source. Who put this information out there? Are they reliable? Can you trace the quote back to where it began? For example, I’m finding articles lately that cite various studies, books and other articles. The real gold is back at that original study or author. It’s even better if I can get to an individual expert who will let me interview him myself and get some new quotes that might be more up-to-date.
As with books, newspapers, magazines, and journals, material on the Internet is considered a secondary source. Try to get to the people who are actually involved in whatever you’re writing about. Use the Internet as a route to those people and as a source for background material.
Now about those claims. What people write on the Internet is just as copyrighted as anything else that gets published. Therefore, the copyright rules apply. You can’t quote more than a few lines without violating their copyright, and you should never take information from anywhere without giving credit to the source. For a refresher on copyright law, check www.copyright.gov.
In addition to the legal rights, there’s the question of privacy. The Net is loaded with forums, discussion groups and blog comments that might fit perfectly into your story. But how would you like it if you thought you were just chatting online and found your words in a newspaper article? You wouldn’t. The fair thing to do is e-mail the person, explain what you’re doing and ask if you can quote them, or, even better, interview them. Most of the time they’ll say yes.
Google and its brethren can make a writer’s life so much easier, but before you go quoting whatever you find online, consider the source and make sure you have permission. After all, what goes online stays online a long time, and the whole world has access to it.
Speaking of the whole world having access, I’ve had a bit of trouble with spam lately. I apologize to those who have had to deal with people trying to sell them unrelated goods or services off this site. I still welcome your comments, but I’ve had to change settings so that I must approve them first in order to protect us all from spam. Don’t let that scare you away. Your words don’t have to be brilliant; they just have to be legitimate comments related to this blog.