Is content curation theft?

I recently suggested content curation as a way to build website traffic. I’ve since discovered that some people argue that curation is theft.

According to the Actulligence blog, it’s all theft and curation is shit. I wouldn’t go that far, but given they feel so strongly about it you can read their views on their site and I won’t even quote a teensy sentence of theirs on here. Their argument is that curation is all about copying and pasting other people’s content, with no value added. Therefore, content curators are layabouts and thieves.

Quite a bold statement, isn’t it? Nevertheless, I have some sympathy with it.

Stop, thief!

If we’re talking about sites such as Pinterest—whose very existence seems to depend on facilitating the theft and “sharing” of other people’s content—then I completely agree with the views expressed on Actulligence. The fact that Pinterest’s terms and conditions warn people against “pinning” content without permission is pretty meaningless, judging by how they reportedly deal with DMCA complaints. If they were serious about stamping on copyright violation, they’d remove all the copies of stolen images from their server. Instead, action appears to be limited to the user against whom the complaint’s been made—any repins by others are left in place.

Where the so-called “curation” is just a case of using an automated system to “scrape” other people’s sites wholesale and reproduce the content elsewhere, then that really is shit. And it’s also noticeable that more snake-oil salespeople are promoting content curation as the latest trend in making money online. No wonder it’s getting a bad name.

But I think it’s a giant step too far to describe all content curation as theft. Despite what Actulligence says, it’s not copyright infringement if the content curation is done properly and legally, and in accordance with the concept of “fair use” (in the US) or analogous concepts in other jurisdictions, eg “fair dealing” in the UK.

That, of course, does not mean it’s OK just to copy and paste big chunks of articles (or images) which are someone else’s copyrighted intellectual property, far less the whole article or image. But short quotations of written content, or low-resolution thumbnails of images, are perfectly acceptable as a means of illustrating material published elsewhere which you’re drawing upon in your own commentary—as long as you attribute the original source of the whole work, and as long as you genuinely are providing comment of your own.

Expert valuation

Which brings me on to my other big point of disagreement with Actulligence. It’s another giant step too far to say that content curation adds no value. At the very least, by reading, analysing, collating and commenting on the given body of information on a subject, a curator can save several other people the time which they would otherwise have to spend on that task—which they can then use more productively. That in itself appears to me to add some value. The fact that the Reader’s Digest has successfully based a business on doing just that since 1922, and the Huffington Post now does it online, shows that there are plenty of other people who think it’s a valuable activity too.

Actulligence argues that the job can be fully automated and denies that humans can do the job any better than machines. I disagree—and will continue to disagree until a machine can judge the quality of information effectively. (For all their complexities, even the best of the search engines don’t meet that standard yet.) A good human curator will not only save their readers the time of gathering information; they’ll do a better job of it than the reader (or a machine) would do, by bringing expertise to bear. That’s where they add particular value.

The Langer perspective

Matt Langer takes a more measured view of the subject in his blog. It’s entertaining reading but again describes content curation as something which doesn’t add value. Actually, he denies that most of what’s commonly called “curation” on the Web is even worthy of the name—it’s just sharing of stuff people like.

Interestingly he seems to have taken umbrage with website (which looks like a lot of bullshit to me so I’m deliberately not linking to it) on the basis that it’s just a means of giving credit and prominence to people who’ve shared stuff—to the extent that it drowns out the details of the original source.

Hmm, despite being a big fan of content curation (not copying or stealing!) I can’t really say I disagree with many of Matt Langer’s views on this issue.

However, I really would argue that curation—by which I mean the gathering and organising of information by a human, with added commentary—can and does add value.

And please note, I didn’t even quote one sentence in this blog post.


3 Responses to “Is content curation theft?”

  1. Frederic Martinet

    Hi Kay ! Thanks a lot for talking about my post. The title was a bit provocative 🙂 The goal was to have people giving their own opinion and not only to repeat a marketing message about curation.

    As you did.

    I discover too other posts you link to and which are very interesting !

    Thanks a lot, and I hope people, bloggers will continue to take the time to thinnk and write.

    Kind regards from France.


  2. Kay

    Hi Frederic

    Many thanks for taking the time to write. This blog is fairly new so it’s encouraging to see it being noticed.

    I think we’re all on the same side really – we don’t want our work stolen. The problem is that people steal and call it curation.

    Funnily enough, I had another comment on this post before yours, which I did not approve. Ironically, it was from a thief who steals content and calls it curation. Grrr!

    Best wishes,



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