Many people who start writing blogs do so to have a platform to share their own ideas about the world, to educate others, or to serve as a means to promote their own products and services. Unfortunately, many bloggers are not familiar with the ins and outs of copyright laws.
As a result, they might find out that they have infringed on someone else's copyright when they receive a "take down" order. Others have found that just taking down the copyrighted material does not mean the issue is resolved. Copyright owners can sue a blogger if their work is used without the explicit permission of the copyright owner.
While the information in this post is not intended as legal advice, it is meant to serve as a basic introduction into copyright issues and how bloggers can avoid finding themselves in trouble for copyright infringement. In the event a reader has specific questions about copyright law, it is best to seek the counsel of an attorney.
What is a Copyright?
A copyright refers to the legal protection afforded by law to the creator of content that is a form of expression, such as articles, plays, poetry, books, short stories, photography, and yes, blogs. This protection is automatic and applies to works that are published as well as those that are unpublished. Even if a work does not have a notice that the content is protected under copyright law, the content creator is still protected for his or her lifetime, plus 70 years.
What is considered Fair Use?
Small pieces of copyrighted material may be used in the event a person wants to comment on the content or critique it for educational purposes for which they are not going experience any type of commercial gain. The rules around Fair Use of copyrighted material are somewhat vague, so the best practice is to uses as little as possible to make your point and to attribute the content that you have used correctly.
When considering whether you are working within Fair Use parameters, consider what kind of impact the use of the material would have on the creator if a large number of people used the content in the same manner that you did. If it is likely that your use would significantly impact the content creator if others did the same, then you are not using the content fairly.
Are All Photographs Found On The Internet Copyrighted?
Yes, all photographs on the Internet are copyrighted if the person holding the copyright is still alive, or it has been less than 70 years since he or she died. This is the area in which bloggers tend to find themselves in trouble. Many people think that if you link back to the site that had the original photograph or artwork, you will have respected the copyright, which is not true.
In order to use a photograph or artwork found on the Internet, you have to get permission from the person who took the photo or created the artwork. Often you will have to pay the photographer or artist a licensing fee. It is also important to note, if the photograph includes a well-known celebrity or model, you will have to get permission from that person as well.
Additionally, if the picture includes a trademarked logo or slogan, perhaps on a billboard in the background of the picture, you will have to get permission from the business or person who holds the trademark.
Where Can Bloggers Find Pictures to Use on Their Website That Will Not Infringe on Someone Else's Copyright?
Many bloggers like to include pictures on their website to make it more visually appealing, but not everyone is able to take a good photograph or pay for a license to use someone else's work. For bloggers who find themselves in this predicament there are sources for photos that will not infringe on someone else's copyright.
Some photographers and artists will have a "Creative Commons license" associated with their work, which specifies that ways in which their work can be used. Another source of free photographs that can be used without concerns about copyright violations is Wikimedia Commons. Additionally, it is possible to get free stock photos from reputable websites that sell stock photos, but these are often of less quality than the photos offered for sale.
What are Some Common Myths About Copyrights?
1. It is okay to use someone else's work if you link back to the original work or give attribution to the content creator. This is false.
==> Unless you are using a snippet of someone else's work under the Fair Use Doctrine, you will be infringing on the creators copyrights.
2. If the blogger does not make money from their website, the blogger does not have to worry copyright infringement. This is also false.
==> The owner of the copyright still owns the content and must grant permission for its use whether or not the person using the content is gaining financially from its use.
3. Someone stole my idea, so my copyrights have been violated.
==> Copyrights only apply to expressed ideas, not the ideas themselves. Additionally, copyright protection does not extend to inventions, logos, or slogans. Trademarks often protect logos and slogans, and patents are granted for inventions or the ideas for innovative products.
Given that copyright holders have become much more aggressive in seeking damages from those who violate their copyright privileges, it is essential that bloggers are vigilant in avoiding infringing on the copyrights of others.