“Why can’t I just steal content from the internet and post it as if it were mine?” asks that jerk in the back of the room. “Why bother crediting the original creator?”

An example of theft. Someone took everything e...

An example of theft. Someone took everything except for the front wheel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first and most obvious answer to this is because it’s wrong. Stealing something and posting it without credit cheats the original poster out of royalties, ad revenue and other profits. You’re a seller. How do you feel when someone cheats you out of your profits or steals your merchandise? You know better than anyone how hard you work for every dollar so why would you do that to a fellow person with something to sell? It’s a simple corollary of the famous, “Don’t be a jerk.” rule of interacting online.

The jerk in the back of the room, though, he doesn’t have the empathy necessary to understand why he shouldn’t steal from others. (Seriously, who let that guy in here?) Crediting the original source sounds like a lot of work. He wants to know what’s in it for him.

Firstly, crediting the original source endears you fans of that creator and to the creator him or herself, especially if your share drives traffic their way. Once they become aware that you shared their content, they usually pay that share forward by checking out your site and products, sharing other things you post with their networks and by becoming a follower or fan. These are people who were creating or already fans of stuff that was related to your content to begin with so they’re a good ally to have on your side rather than someone to piss off.

Which brings us to the second thing that’s in it for you if you credit the source: not pissing people off. Maybe you think no one cares who things belong to on the internet but that’s probably because you’ve never seen it backfire horribly. Everyone has fans and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of an angry mob wanting justice for their favorite artist’s work that you just tried to pass off as your own. Why risk the bad press and negative attention when it’s simpler to just do the right thing in the first place?

That said, crediting the source is often easier said than done sometimes. Sometimes a quick search is all it takes to find the original for videos and text content while images may involve something a little more advanced like the free TinEye browser extension that searches images with a click. And if you absolutely can’t find the original source, credit where you found it, and then just add a note to your post to the effect of, “Does anyone know the source for this so I can credit them?” You’d be amazed at how much goodwill a message like this can generate so that your followers know you’re at least trying to do the right thing and a fan will often come through with the source for you in the end.