Copyright Law: 12 Dos and Don’ts

by Daniel in 119 Comments — Updated Reading Time: 4 minutes

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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


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.

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119 thoughts on “Copyright Law: 12 Dos and Don’ts”

  1. Understand the differences in copyright law around the world, e.g. between the US and UK.
    Also, don’t mistake copyleft as a free for all. Copyleft is just copyright with conditions.

  2. @ Jason March 14th 2007

    Maybe this will never be read by you but I found this article to be accurate and well-written.

    About the first point being wrong? Producing a work may not be the same as releasing/publishing it, but I think it’s clear that is what was meant. Confusing two very similar terms doesn’t make the whole article bad.

    What’s wrong with touching on trademark law? It is related to copyright, so therefore relevant and worth mentioning as pertaining to company logos and names. The author never claimed that the two are the same.

    I don’t think anyone reading this is quite dumb enough to take this as THE authoritative source on copyright. The author even wrote at the bottom “This article was not written by a lawyer and it does not intend to constitute legal advice.” I think it is intended to just be a general guideline for rule of thumb use; that way those of us who don’t practice law for a living can understand enough to stay out of trouble.

  3. This is a helpful article. Does anyone know the rules regarding using images of magazine covers on websites? Thanks in advance for any help!

  4. Someone needs to write up a bit more about the creative commons license as it seems to be increasingly popular to use. I’ve used a few images on my blog and I think i’m doing the right thing… I’d love to be 100% sure.

  5. I am interested in starting a blog that involves creative writing on my part. Eventually, if the blog is well-received, I would like to consider consolidating the material for a book. Can I protect my blog copy with a copyright, so it cannot be reproduced legally by someone else? If I can do this, then are there particular blog sites that allow bloggers to retain copyright and others that do not? I am thinking about because it is easy.

    Thank you.

  6. Yes, copyright law is more and more important for commerce online!
    So if you want to do more bussiness, pls take care!

  7. That’s a mistake. Shoemoney has a lot of influence (especially among the seo / sem crowd), and he’s been a long time friend of the site. Instead of banning him, they should hire him to try and find other holes in the service.

  8. This is a good article on dos and dont’s about copyrights on the internet. If there is a need to find a copyright holder please be aware that sites like have a growing database of registered copyright records that can be searched at will.

  9. Thanks for this article Daniel. It really helps when dealing with information that is so easily available all over the web

  10. Understand the differences in copyright law around the world, e.g. between the US and UK.
    Also, don’t mistake copyleft as a free for all. Copyleft is just copyright with conditions.

  11. WOW! Did I learn something from everyone! Thanks

    I heard the answers I needed to hear; in other words – my questions were answered, and I am more knowledgeable than before. Thanks again everybody!

  12. Well, I think if you can’t be orginal what’s the point in blogging!

    I’m a reporter and I have started a news site blog for my home town which includes local news plus general lifestyle features. I’ve done a quick search of some of my articles titles and I’ve found that several of my lifestyle features have been added to websites in the USA.

    I’m based in the UK and I think they probably think it’s ok to nick them as they are only subject to UK copyright law.

    If they would have asked I would have been happy to let them be used for free for a backlink.

    Cheeky beggars.

    I’ve served them all with copyright infringement notices.

  13. I put the site I speak of and wanted to question is that really legal because it says it is not microsoft and yet has that name ??? That is legal> Yet if you look to the news article on freedom of speech at it explains then to report fraud on a company even with proof is still a lawsuit cuz if your sued you have to go to court hearings in another state they sue you from no matter where you live or you lost..
    This means then if you had money to fight and go out of state it is ok and then legal to buy your way out in the usa?
    sounds off too since there was a site that used the name face-book and they lost for using the site name alone when facebook sued them. Why then did they lose if they were not trying to be them and was 2 different words seperate

  14. Thanks Daniel. This was very helpful. My question – which you sorta answered, but I am wanting more specifics if possible – regards images. I read a lot of blogs where the author talks about celebrities or athletes or what-have-you, and wonder where they’ve obtained their photos of the person being written about. For example, a Congressman being exposed as having solicited sex from a prostitute and it’s big news. Do most bloggers just steal a photo of said guy from a newspaper. (And how do they get away with it?) I have a hard time believing that all these bloggers have accounts with AP or Getty Images or something.
    And what about videos? Can you just “take” a video you find on YouTube or Google without repurcussions?

  15. Thanks for the information. What is missing are lawyers that blog. Does anyone know some references to this kind of information? If we want people to take notice of these rules we need sources of information in an easy to understand language (like this article). I do like to seek legal advice but I don’t want to pay in order to make sure that my blogpost is acceptable. Maybe we need some kind of “public domain” lawyers office?

  16. This is also a very useful article that I’d like to share in my blog. I used to pick news stories from news sites and post them on my blog for content, but now I will need to remove them before someone approaches me.

  17. I have a question, how do all the above make sense if I copy the content from a blog and print them into a magazine stating that these are extracts from a blog.

    Also I would like to print the comments coming from people over a subject of the blog, how does that happen?

    Your answers would be appreciated !!!

  18. @Bunnybaby, as you saw in the article itself, using quotes and giving credit to the author is protected by the law :). You just can’t copy 100% of it.

  19. Dear Mr Socco,

    This is also a very useful article that I’d like to share in my blog. Do you mind if I quoted some of the points – translated into Malay language? I promise that I won’t claim the article as mine.

  20. Great Post!

    Thanks for the ideas that you shared with us..It could help us a lot.
    Keep on Posting interesting topics.

    God bless uu!

  21. I have a question. I am relatively new at this. I want to start a cooking blog and include a recipe archieve. How are recipes covered by copy right. If I use recipes from books or online is that stealing. Can I just mention where it came from or can I change the recipe slightly and consider it mine.

    If I use 3rd party content (plr recipes) what reassurance do I have that it is not someone elses.

    I appreciate an answer as I don’t want to “steal” someone else’s hard work.

  22. Very useful information. I used to pick news stories from news sites and post them on my blog for content, but now I will need to remove them before someone approaches me.


  23. @ Mike,

    As far is I know copywrites least at least 10 years before they exeed, but if everything is country based. Maybe he didn’t had any copywrites at all. In belgium by example is everything you make automaticly copywrited. Sow have a deep look in de USA law


  24. Hi guys,

    I’m looking for some advice and would be grateful for any help.

    Back in 1999, I purchased an online marketing system known the “Cookie Cutter” marketing system created in America by a guy named Gary White.

    Needless to say the system didn’t last very long and Gary White closed down his business and his website.

    I want to resurrect and tweak the system and promote it online via my own website and my own business name.

    As Gary White no longer promotes this system and it does not exist on the Internet, am I infringing any copyright laws?

    Thanks for any help.

  25. The funny thing is that in most countries in the bureaucratic EU, they do not have a copyright office!

    Go figure, the generally less bureaucratic USA has a copyright office, but the UK and most of Europe does not!

  26. You will be surprised how many clients think that it is fine to copy information from the internet and take pictures from Google images. It is very important that you are fully aware of the laws of copyright.

  27. Wow! thanks for the reminder and warning to my blog, i didn’t know that till i read this post, thanks for the post, now i understand, and im sorry to copy your post, i just want to share it with people on my blog.


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