Can I Quote You? Public Domain and Internet Forums, Bulletin Boards, etc.

Can I Quote You? Public Domain and Internet Forums, Bulletin Boards, etc.

Plagiarism is inexcusable, immoral, and despicable. But what are the laws about quoting what people say in public forums if giving proper citation? Is that an example of public domain?

For example, can you quote what one person said on a public internet forum on your own website assuming proper citation? While common courtesy would dictate asking permission to reprint their statements, especially in socially delicate concerns, is it necessary?

Since I am a website designer, not a lawyer, I decided to ask my network of professionals for legal interpretation and popular thought. Here’s what they said – all with proper attribution, of course!

Legal Infringement

The answer, as with all good legal questions, is “it depends.” It depends on the terms of service of the particular forum. Does the forum lay claim to all of its members’ posts, and if so, to what extent? Your question is really quite a good one because it can be attacked from a number of different directions.

From the perspective of the person posting on a forum: I’m sure many people assume that posting on a public forum means their posts become part of the public domain. If, however, you consider posting a form of publication, then that’s not necessarily the case. One reasonable view would be to consider the act of posting as granting an implied license from the author to the forum to use the material in the post for the purposes of the forum. Let’s use the example of a poem, posted on a poetry-focused forum that has no language in its terms of service about what happens to poems posted on the forum. If I copy that poem and publish it in a book with other poems, the author would arguably have a claim against me.

If I paraphrase the poem and link back to the original post, the strength of the author’s claim weakens. That’s when we get in to the idea of fair use, which is one of those fuzzy areas of the law that helps copyright lawyers pay their mortgages. Very broadly and generally speaking, if you quote from a portion of an author’s work, that may be considered fair use of the author’s work. It can be hard to establish when you’ve crossed the line from fair use into infringement.

Whether you attribute the quote that you use to the author is really irrelevant from a copyright law perspective — copyright infringement is not an intentional tort. Giving a shout-out to the person whose work you’ve lifted will not excuse you from liability for infringement, if what you’re doing is infringement. From a cultural perspective, however, it may be all of the compensation that many authors are looking for, which is maybe why so many people think it makes a difference to acknowledge the author/artist when a work is copied.

From the perspective of the forum, this is where there may be language in the terms of service that attempts to cover what rights exist in the posts on the forum. I’m not aware that the issue has been litigated, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it has been. Most of the lawsuits in this area have arisen over copyrighted content posted on forum boards, not over postings that were lifted and used elsewhere.

Feel free to quote me — with attribution. 😉

-Kelly Talcott, Partner, Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge

Truth again beats fiction. This morning started with headlines on the guy from Aruba, involved in the Natalee Holloway disappearance. As you may recall, a Dutch journalist extracted a detailed story from him, using hidden electronics. His lawyer now claims that all that was said ‘on camera’ is copyright protected and may not be used without permission. We have seen this argument before in the Netherlands, leading our highest judiciary to decide that where “any creative activity is clearly absent in light of the banality or triviality of the expression” there will be no protection by copyright.

– Gerben Schoorl, Legal Services Consultant

Blogger’s Perspectives

Most of us bloggers are striving for an audience and we love quotes and links back to our work (hint, hint!)

For blogging, it is an accepted practice to quote a blog post and link back to it, giving credit to either the blog owner or the blog name. Many bloggers hope for that to happen – it helps with the Search Engine Rankings.

Quoting from a Forum, may be a little more problematic. A forum may be considered a closed community. I would check the Terms Of Service on the Forum and to be safe, always ask permission to quote. Even if it is ‘legal’ to quote someone, you run the risk of alienating yourself.
Charly Leetham, Marketing Advisor

Well if you write a science paper or a thesis you are allowed to quote freely as long as you reference everything back to the author. It’s a recognition of their work and expertise, and a common courtesy as well. I often quote bits from papers on my blog and put it all in ” “, and then link to the authors paper and give the full citation. It’s good for them too.

I have also been quoted and I don’t mind at all, it’s good visibility for my work. In fact I have thanked people for it.

Marie-Claire Jenkins, SEO expert & computer scientist

A Web Designer’s Perspective

Historical: Journalists referred to style guides from API and UPI which gave a briefing on media law among other grammatical considerations. In general, cite your source for a brief quote. Get permission for longer excerpts.

Legal: Copyright law applies — and even if you have the technical ability to grab articles from others, it is illegal to do so.

Ethical: It is wrong to steal intellectual property.

Use common sense and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

– Scott Frangos, Web Developer & Site Optimization Consultant at WebFadds

An Author’s Perspective

The entire domain known as intellectual property is shifting and changing at a rapid rate. I believe this is due to at least two major reasons:

  1. Technology has changed the way information is communicated.
  2. There’s been a lot of ethical slippage and notions of right and wrong are skewed….moral relativism rules the day.

Within the blogosphere, bloggers of good reputation regularly acknowledge materials they’ve recycling by using H/T or h/t = hat tip to: URL. In printed materials, authors are expected to provide full URLs to support information/quotes cited from websites.

I would agree that “common courtesy” would dictate asking permission. Alas, common courtesy is less common these days. And you may quote me on that!

Meredith Gould, Writer + Editor + Publishing Coach + Sociologist + Author = Supreme Word Goddess of the Universe

My Perspective

I love to be quoted – with attribution. If something that I wrote pleases you or would work well in your medium, please feel free to quote away! Links back to this site with the words Charlotte Web Development or Web Site Design, Charlotte are graciously appreciated.

Alternatively, if you need a quote, drop me a line – I’ll see how far I can put my foot in my mouth for the sake of journalism. I do reserve the right to request removal if taken out of context or if your quote places me in a less-than-desirable light!

What’s your perspective?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Nazaar Shadir April 1, 2009 at 7:56 pm


When writing a blog entry and I quote from a newspaper, magazine or columnist who is reporting news or facts is citation needed?

If yes, how to cite a source in a blog? What is the proper way giving credit or showing that the quote in not mine?

Nazaar Shadir


CWD April 19, 2009 at 9:52 am


I think this depends on where the facts came from and how they were gathered. Maybe it depends more on what the definition of ‘facts’ are. I would assume anything of public record ex. Elections held on this date, census data, etc is fair game. But since we all know how ‘facts’ can be contorted and spun, you stand a chance of reporting hearsay I would make a mention of the source as often as possible. The phrase “as reported by” is a good, good friend!


CWD April 19, 2009 at 9:52 am

Thanks for the comment, Lenenvidge!


kathey reed November 19, 2019 at 10:33 pm

I made a comment about my Christian faith. Someone claimed they are putting my comments in a book to disparage me. they claim they have the right through internet laws, and they bragged they didn’t have to have my permission. i could not debate it, for i did not know. I think she is wrong. What are the rules. It was a comment, on a thread. She is not a friend.


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