Copyright ensures that content creators are able to make money to live, and many of them are very strict about protecting that right. We’re going to have a look at the basic information that bloggers need to know to avoid infringing on other people’s copyright. Keep in mind that what follows is specific to the United States and should be taken as a guideline rather than as legal advice.
Consider these three sentences:
- Published content on the Internet is in a public and unprotected place, and therefore, can be taken and reused freely. If people didn’t want their work shared, they wouldn’t put it on the Internet.
- All content can be taken so long as it is properly attributed.
- If content isn’t clearly marked as under copyright, it can be taken and reused by anyone.
If you are a blogger, and think any of these sentences are true, there is high chance that you are breaking the law on your site. None of these statements is true.
For millenials who have grown up with the Internet, sharing content or taking it and adapting it for their own purposes seems like a natural part of online life. That content isn’t freely available for reuse may seem counter-intuitive. Bloggers who fail to educate themselves about the legal status of content they come across may end up in a sticky situation.
There are many reasons why sharing and reuse is good for content creators: it’s a form of free publicity, their creative work gets seen by a wider audience, and some just consider that content creators are morally obligated to make content freely available. However, whatever the reasons in favor of free sharing, the law sees things differently, and very often so do content creators.
Writers, photographers, and other creators of content often invest a great deal of time and money in their work. They love as many people to see and enjoy it as possible. It’s why they create in the first place, but they need to eat and live like everyone else.
What is Copyright?
Copyright is constitutionally guaranteed legal right that creators of content have over the works they create. Basically, they have the right to decide who can copy their work. It applies to written work, images, music, and other content.
Here we are addressing individual bloggers and content creators who do not create work under contract for others as “work for hire”, where different rules apply.
Work Must Be Registered To Be Protected
This is not true. Copyright automatically applies to all eligible works from the moment of its creation. Content is under copyright by default and nothing more needs to be done after a work is created for it to be protected.
This means that almost all content that isn’t explicitly released under a permissive license is off-limits for re-use without permission. There are three major exceptions to this rule, which we’ll look at later.
If Work Doesn’t Have A Copyright Notice Attached, It’s Not Protected
Also untrue. Including a copyright notice with your work is encouraged for clarification (and some other benefits), but it is not necessary. Works are automatically protected regardless of whether they make that protection explicit. You are not free to use other people’s content just because it is not marked as under copyright.
The safest strategy is to assume all content is under copyright, and all rights have been reserved, unless the creator explicitly says otherwise
So Long As I Attribute Work To Its Creator, I’m Safe.
Attribution does not negate copyright. Plagiarism is not the same as copyright infringement. Plagiarism is the presentation of other people’s work as your own. It may also infringe copyright, but it is not the same as copyright infringement. Without permission from the copyright holder, even properly attributed work will infringe copyright.
Because copyright law has changed frequently over the years, so has the period for which works are protected.
The Fair Use Exception allows some restricted uses of copyright work. Fair Use is a specific legal exception. Bloggers don’t get to decide what is fair when it comes to other people’s content.
The purpose of Fair Use is to allow “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research”, regardless of copyright. However, those uses are restricted, and it can be tricky to figure out what sort of use is permissible. A good rule of thumb is that you can include small parts of copyrighted content or their images on your blog for the purpose of comment or criticism. The law tends to be on the side of content creators in these matters, so restraint is advisable.
via : Shutterstock
Content creators can license their legal rights to other people. Photographers, for example, very often don’t sell their copyright to the photographs they take, instead they sell licenses for particular uses. Some content creators will release their works under a license that allows people to use and share them. The Creative Commons licenses are a good example of this. They are a selection of licenses that creators can apply to their works, and which grant people certain usage rights, sometimes with conditions. For example, a photographer may choose to allow anyone to use an image, so long as they link back to where they find it and don’t use it for commercial purposes.
Flickr has many such images. The Flickr search engine Compfight is a great way to find images that are free to use under a CC license.
If bloggers follow four simple rules, they will be safe from the legal risk of infringing copyright:
- Don’t use other people’s content without permission.
- If you are going to use the Fair Use Exemption, don’t abuse it and be aware of its limitations.
- Be aware of a work’s license, and make use of content licensed under the Creative Commons or other permissive licenses.
- If you do need to use work created by professionals who make their living from that work, be prepared to pay for it.
These rules are a useful guide, but bloggers should also use an official source to familiarize themselves with US Copyright law.