Thursday, November 30, 2023

When is it Acceptable for a Writer to Borrow from Other Writers?

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

This is an issue that’s come up a lot lately in my communities. The borrowing I’m referring to is in reference to anything that’s written or taught. The teaching could be in person, online, or at a conference.

We all want to be generous, but we also want to be respectful of the work others have put into the things they share. So here’s my list of things we might borrow and how we need to handle the borrowing ethically. 

10 Ways a Writer Can Borrow Ethically

1. A blog post. If we wish to share a blog post, we can post the link online or in written material without ever asking. It’s a good thing to share what someone else has written this way. 

However, we should never copy and re-paste or reprint a blog post that someone else has written without express permission FIRST. 

2. An article. Same rules and etiquette apply with articles as with blog posts. 

3. An email. Emails are also written. And technically, according to copyright law, an email copyright belongs to the person who wrote it. So for example, let’s say a writer wants to ask for endorsements. That person may assume it’s fine to take someone else’s endorsement request email and copy it and use it for themselves. Although this practice is done fairly often, it really is not ok. 

The way to handle this situation is to first email the person whose email we wish to copy and ask permission. It’s the respectful thing to do.

4. A form. Published writers spend a surprising amount of time composing forms. We have forms to engage launch team members, forms to join groups, even forms to use when we’re assessing coaching someone. All of these forms took work to create. Again, it is not okay just to copy a form and use it for ourselves without asking. 

5. A handout. Many of us teach writing as well as write. And to do that well, we create handouts. Those handouts are meant to help our students. They are not something we create to be distributed by those students to people who didn’t take the class. 

6. A presentation slide. I will frequently take a quick picture of a slide when I’m sitting in a class. I do this because it helps me retain the information that’s being taught. I have students who do the same thing. It is never acceptable to share those images with someone who wasn’t in the class without permission. 

7. A quote. Quotes are funny things right now. There hasn’t been a legal case go through our system to find out what the law says about using quotes. However, it is always good etiquette to ask if you can quote someone.

8. A social media post. On social media we have the option to share or retweet or repost something. All of those things are fine to do without asking permission. The reason this is fine is because sharing that way leaves the name of the original poster in place. 

What is not okay is copying a post or a picture or a meme and creating a new post. That is borrowing and before we do that, we need to ask permission.

9. A meme. A meme is a picture with text embedded. These are frequently seen on social media, but can also be seen in newsletters and on websites. Again, this is something that took time to create and we need to respect the work and the ownership and ask permission before we download the meme and share it somewhere else. 

There are two exceptions to this: 
  • First, if someone gives permission to use that meme in the text referring to it. Then we don’t have to ask permission because we’ve already received permission.
  • Second, if the meme is the featured image of a blog post and when you share the URL of the post the image doesn’t come up, you may manually insert the image. 

10. A book (or excerpt from a book). Most people know you shouldn’t reprint a book. But it’s also important to ask permission before borrowing a good-sized chunk of the book, or even a small-size chunk. Even if what you’re borrowing isn’t a copyright infringement, it’s still proper etiquette to ask first. 

These are the things I came up with that a writer might be inclined to borrow. What would you add to the list? Be sure to leave your thoughts about “borrowing” in the comments section below!

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Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. No matter whether she’s talking to writers, entrepreneurs, or readers, her first advice is always “Find your voice, live your story.” As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. Connect with her on her website, through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


  1. What about when it comes to ideas? How much needs to change for it not to be a copy?

  2. Great info, Edie! Thanks for sharing!