As the blogging phenomenon expands, copyright concerns become quite important. Technology makes it really easy to copy, modify and share information, whether we talk about text, images, audio or video. The problem is that the vast majority of people do not have a clear understanding of the Copyright Law, which might result in illegal and costly mistakes. Below you will find 12 Do’s and Dont’s that will clarify what you can and what you can not do as an online publisher:
1. Do use material under public domain: you are free to use any work that is in public domain. This includes federal government documents, materials produced before 1923 and materials produced before 1977 without a copyright notice.
2. Do quote something you find interesting: the Copyright Act defines that short quotations for the purpose of criticism, commentary or news reporting are considered “fair use”. Notice that the quote should involve only a small portion of the work, and it should not replicate the “heart” of the material.
3. Do use facts and ideas: Copyright Law protects the expression of facts and ideas. That is the form, combination and structure of documents and not the facts themselves. You are free to use facts and ideas reported on articles or websites.
4. Do use other materials that are not subject to copyright: apart from facts and ideas there are many other classes of materials that can not be protected under the Copyright Law. Those materials include names, familiar symbols, listings of ingredients or contents, short phrases, titles, slogans and procedures (notice that some of those materials might be protected by trademark, though).
5. Do use a company name or logo if you are talking about it: trademarks should protect a company from people trying to use its name or logo to deceive customers. If you are criticizing or analyzing a company, however, you can use its name or logo under a “nominative fair use”.
6. Do use a company name on your domain: as mentioned on the previous item you can use a company’s name as long as you are not trying to deceive people that you speak on behalf of this company or that you are related to it in any way. This right applies to domain names. Someone could create a website to complain about a company, say Microsoft, and use a domain name that contains the name of this company, say microsoftsucks.com.
7. Don’t assume that if you credit the author there is no copyright infringement: a lot of people wrongly think that if they credit the author of an article or image they are not violating the copyright law. You can only use copyrighted material if you have explicit permission from the author to do so (or if you make fair use of it, as explained before).
8. Don’t copy material just because it does not show a copyright message: the Copyright Law required a copyright notice to protect works until 1977. In 1978, however, the law changed and abolished the requirement for copyright notice. This means that every published work (be it on paper or digital media) automatically gets copyright protection, whether expressed with a notice or not.
9. Don’t equate Creative Commons with “free for grab”: while Creative Commons licenses are less restrictive then standard copyright they should not be interpreted a “free for grab”. In order to understand what you can or can not do with Creative Commons material you should check what kind of license it is using. Certain licenses will require you to credit the original author, while others will require that you release any modifications of the document under the same license.
10. Don’t copy material just because you are not making a commercial use: while making commercial use of copyrighted material might make it easier for the author to claim damages against you the commercial use per se is not a requirement for copyright infringement. Even if you are not making a commercial use of the material you are still infringing the law if you do not have a permission from the author.
11. Don’t assume that if you remove the copyrighted material you will be out of trouble: a lot of people copy images and text around the Internet thinking that in the worst of the cases they will receive a take down notice from the author and remove the material from the website. The removal of the copyrighted material will not remove the copyright infringement at all. Should the author decide to go after you in count you will be in trouble all the same.
12. Don’t copy material just because you can’t find a copyright holder: the fact that a copyright holder can not be identified does not imply that the material can be freely copied. Similarly if you locate the copyright holder, email him asking permission and receive no answer back you would still be infringing the law if you use the material.
This article was not written by a lawyer and it does not intend to constitute legal advice.