It’s important to be proactive on matters of content theft and copyright infringement. A large part of this is text quoted from other sources. With some exceptions (public domain works, works by the Federal Government, works released under alternative licenses to copyright, and more), you can’t allow your members to post entire text articles that they did not author or hold no rights to, source or no source.

But, that doesn’t mean that they can’t quote some portions that are properly attributed. Fair use is an exception to copyright that, among many other things and without getting too legally technical, allows you to quote excerpts of someone else’s work with proper attribution. Fair use isn’t a law as much as it is a defense.

What constitutes fair use is not an absolute; different variables can impact exactly what is fair use for a given work. For the sake of my forums, I needed to have an easily explainable and definable standard that me, my members and my staff could understand, explain and adhere to. What I came up with was the following:

Do not post copyrighted materials (articles, videos, audio, etc.) that you do not have permission to reproduce or distribute. For text articles, most of the time you may quote a small portion of the article (usually no more than 1/5 or 1/6) and you must link to the source (if online) or provide the source (if offline). Posting the entire article, even with the source, constitutes copyright infringement. …

The 1/5 or 1/6 portion isn’t part of the fair use doctrine, but because the doctrine itself can be confusing for some and difficult to pin down – we needed a standard that could be consistently applied and, from my own experience, that amount of quoting is generally acceptable.

1/5 or 1/6 is easy for me and my staff to spot. If someone posts 2 paragraphs of a 10 paragraph (which I can easily count by scanning) article, they’re good. If they posted 4 of those 10 paragraphs, they’re not. It’s easy to spot whether or not they’ve posted a link to the source. It is also extremely likely that 1/5 or 1/6 of an article, depending on the article itself, will be considered fair use. So, we have a win, win, win. Members can legally share, everyone’s rights are respected and you have an easy standard to apply.

To go along with this, whenever a post is removed for this reason, the poster is sent this message:


Thank you for visiting <SITE NAME>.

Unfortunately, I have had to remove your post quoted below as it violated our [url=<LINK TO USER GUIDELINES>]User Guidelines[/url] as copyright infringement.


When quoting an article or written work that you did not author or do not have permission to reproduce (which is our assumption in this case – if it is incorrect, please let us know and include some way for us to verify this fact), you may only quote a small portion of the article (usually no more than 1/5 or 1/6) and you must link to the source (if online) or provide the source (if offline).

Please keep this in mind to prevent further violations in the future.

Thank you for your time and cooperation.


<SITE NAME> Moderator

It’s short, simple and to the point. After receiving this message, the vast majority of members understand and keep it in mind for the future. But, once in a very long while, a member might challenge this policy, ask me where the 1/5 or 1/6 came from or tell me that they’re allowed to quote articles in full on other forums.  Here is a real message I sent to a member who did all three:


Thank you for your message. No worries on the confusion.

We are allowed to quote the written works of others, in the context of our forums, because of the fair use doctrine in U.S. Copyright Law. Fair use is not a law, it is more of a defense or an exception. Our guidelines here come from generally accepted fair use practices, as well as my own experience in managing these types of communities and situations.

So as to not get too complicated, the two main tenets of fair use on online communities tend to be the attribution and the amount of the work quoted. With a website, the most proper attribution will be a direct link to the article that is being quoted from.

When speaking of the amount of the work quoted, it’s important that it be an excerpt that is relatively short, not making up a substantial part of the work. The shorter the quote is, the more likely it is to qualify for fair use.

In my experiences, I have found that with the size of the articles generally quoted here, 1/5 or 1/6 of the article tends to be a pretty solid guideline to accomplish this through. Having a set standard of 1/5 or 1/6 also makes it easier for members to remain within the law and our guidelines and that is good for everyone. It creates an easy to follow standard.

Many community administrators and managers do not handle these matters appropriately because they do not know better or because they just want to take advantage of the works of others in order to generate traffic for their site.

For example, I write for a few sites and it is not uncommon for someone to allow a member to post my work in full on their forums until I call them on it by filing a notice that requires them to act or face legal responsibility. I believe it is best to do right on your own, rather than seeing how long you can get by doing wrong until someone calls you on it. But, not everyone sees it this way.

If you’d like more specifics on fair use, please see:

If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Thank you for your time and cooperation.



The member wanted me to go detailed and I did. Hopefully, with these messages in mind, you’ll be better equipped to manage fair use quoting on your forums. It may sound complicated or scary, but this process, once you have it down, makes it a piece of cake. Please feel free to borrow from any of the quoted portions above, as you craft your own policies and templates.

Special thanks to my friend Jonathan Bailey of PlagiarismToday for his input on this article.