Normally, when you see something you like on a web page and share it, nobody minds. Site owners encourage the sharing of their content, because it means more traffic for them.
Depending on their business model, this could mean more ad revenue, more sales or simply more brand awareness.
Sharing content becomes a problem in a number of ways. For example, if you share a photo or some other content and do not include the proper credits, then you are passing off that content as your own. Copyright laws exist for a reason and they do apply to content you find online. Breaking those laws can land you in a lot of trouble both financially and legally.
If you are in any doubt, the simplest thing to do is check with the author of the content first and then act accordingly.
When talking about sharing content, I am not just speaking about sharing via a social network like Facebook. It also applies to the content you create on your own website as well. If you do need to use someone else’s content, make sure you have permission first and give credit where credit is due.
Full on plagiarism (stealing content and passing it off as your own) is referred to as scraping when it comes to websites. Whole pages get scraped and posted on sites unknown to the author. Usually this is done using bots, which are programs designed to scour the net and steal your content. That is not always the case however.
I recently became aware of a website that does something similar, but rather than stealing the content, it rebrands it by pasting adverts over the top of the actual page.
What this does is cash in on potentially viral content, while at the same time avoiding the advertising costs associated with the page in question. Tempting maybe, but it definitely sounds like plagiarism and could deprive the copyright holder of badly needed ad revenue.
If in doubt, or if something doesn’t feel quite right, check with the copyright holder before sharing and using their content.
Remember that whatever you do online leaves a visible trail. If you post something on Twitter, people will see it. If that something is morally or legally dubious, prepare for some fireworks.