Copyright Law: 12 Dos and Don’ts

By Daniel Scocco

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:

DOS

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.

DON’TS

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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183 Responses to “Copyright Law: 12 Dos and Don’ts”

  • Orcus

    Actually, no. Copyright laws should be abolished. They are anti-competitive in nature (try making a show with a similar premise to Star Gate and watch how quickly you get shut down) and do more harm then good.
    Fact of the matter is, with globalisation a very real fact, and with populations spiking, a global financial recession, and poverty in third world countries worse then ever, with the all-mighty American government policing the world and spending more money on military then it ever has before, there is no longer a need for money. For capitalism.
    The way the world functions would not change if we removed money. Period. Except EVERYONE would be able to work, would have a job, except those who physically cant.
    Theft, murder, these crimes would significantly be reduced in number because a large amount of them are driven by material gain.

  • medyum

    Yes, I agree with this. A lot of my competitors stolen my content before it was crawled by Google. The most times they were crawled first, so Google thought always I was the one with duplicat content, sometimes it is so annoying me.

  • BigfootUK

    It sounds like to me you can’t repeat anything that has been posted anywhere just incase you get sued. So unless you are creating something brand new you will unboubtably get sued.
    So who has copyright over the English language can they sue me for printing these words on the internet, or will your site get sued.
    Can i claim copyright over the content i am adding to your site now or do you now own this?
    What about RSS feeds are we not breaking copyright laws buy using a feed reader?
    the whole copyright this is just insane and I obviously just dont ‘get it’

    sorry rant over

    • Ron

      Hi Jason,

      I have been wondering if the Copyright Crackdown is happening at this time as a prelude to the upcoming election.
      These rules seem to be tighter since the president got elected in Nov 2008.

      How do we know that this is not a response to the use of the internet to spread the truth about the agenda of the Federal Government to “Fundamentally Transform America” (For all I know, that phrase may be copyrighted.)

      What I am getting at, will it be illegal and punishable to cut and paste the “13 Rules For Radicals” from Saul Alinsky’s
      book by the same name? Someone in the democrat party may not like it when you help to expose the agenda.

      Pictures that appear in a newspaper or News Website can not be
      called private domain… The mere publishing of them makes them pubic content.

      What ever happened to Freedom Of Speech?

      If the Copyright laws ONLY exempt Government criticism from Freedom Of Speech restrictions, then the rules that apply to pornography being a Free Speech issue should also be restricted…

    • Ron

      Hi BigfootUK

      I have been wondering if the Copyright Crackdown is happening at this time as a prelude to the upcoming election.
      These rules seem to be tighter since the president got elected in Nov 2008.

      How do we know that this is not a response to the use of the internet to spread the truth about the agenda of the Federal Government to “Fundamentally Transform America” (For all I know, that phrase may be copyrighted.)

      What I am getting at, will it be illegal and punishable to cut and paste the “13 Rules For Radicals” from Saul Alinsky’s
      book by the same name? Someone in the democrat party may not like it when you help to expose the agenda.

      Pictures that appear in a newspaper or News Website can not be
      called private domain… The mere publishing of them makes them pubic content.

      What ever happened to Freedom Of Speech?
      Is this only an issue in the United States?
      I recently heard that some company has been buying the Copyright to newspaper images and is now chasing those
      who re-use these images as if they were the original photographer.
      Could this be some rich propagandist with an agenda?

      If the Copyright laws ONLY exempt Government criticism from Freedom Of Speech restrictions, then the rules that apply to pornography being a Free Speech issue should also be restricted…

  • kevinxiao

    I have some ideas to make some story and would like to use a blog to write them as I go along so others can read and comment but I am unsure if someone will steal my ideas for there own

    yes, copyright is very important

  • 16&innocent

    Hi
    I have some ideas to make some story and would like to use a blog to write them as I go along so others can read and comment but I am unsure if someone will steal my ideas for there own and I’m unsure how copy right if any one can help? I know some kind of copy right, need to pay .But unsure if it worth it plus as well as story/ novels I would like to post illurstrated images. Doesn’t matter if none can help . But great point, I got the page book marked.
    Thanks

  • wildcat

    Why is it on Google images that there are duplicate images by different authors? How do you know which one is the original?

    I have tried to get my images another way, i.e royalty free images or Creative Commons or even paid images, and I found that none of them suited my theme…….Taking my own pictures wouldn’t work either because I need cartoon images, and pictures of objects I don’t have access to.

  • wildcat

    I am miffed….yet another excuse to delay getting things done i.e: my blogs.

    I can’t even use Google images without a great big hassle. So I have to take down all of my pictures because I may have violated someone’s copyright. CraP!!!!!

    I am just getting started and my plans are shot to hell—again!

  • Sue

    I think that not only the 12 dos and donts about copyright are useful, but all the discussion about copyright matters, written by lawyers and others have turned this post into an invaluable source for bloggers and creative artists. Thanks everybody!

  • opirait

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

  • adapter

    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.

  • jack

    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!

  • jim

    Concerning newspaper articles I am building a web site for educational purposes. There are news articles I would like to use.The site will be subscription based–for profit.
    Is it legal to post such articles without the consent of the newspaper?
    And..how would I get permission from a large paper like the New York Times?

  • Jaysen

    This is a great article on clearing things up, in case people didn’t quite understand. Check this article at The Music Void – copyright has become the centre of the storm. But then, when has it not? http://bit.ly/bT8FKq

  • Copirait

    This is a good post. I have seen blatant copyright violations in the blog world that just make me shudder. People seem to think that if it’s on the internet, it’s automatically public domain and that’s just totally false. I had a woman take a photo from my blog and post it on hers. When I requested that she take it down, she complained that if she had to ask permission every time she used an image, she’d never get anything done. Well — get a camera and make your own images! That’s how I get mine! Aaaack! I’m starting to rant! Anyway, thanks for your post that will help to educate at least a few.

  • Karen

    Maybe this is a stupid question, but if I were to quote fortunes from fortune cookies in my blog, would there be any copyright issue with that? Is it OK for me to just freely quote the entire fortunes…do I need to cite them somehow…contact someone? Any idea?

  • Dinesh

    Thanks for providing great tips.

    Have a quick question regarding copyright law.

    Can I use a product image and description from product company website in my blog ?
    Example – Can I use Nokia E72 model images and product description and specification from Nokia.com in my website ?

    Thanks in advance

  • Hesham @ FamousBloggers

    Very nice stuff, I am looking for some information regarding the blog comments copyrights issue as I really really don’t get it!

  • Nell

    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.

  • jailhousews

    @ 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.

  • Crystal

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

  • Hootoo

    I sure learned a lot from your post, but it seems that copyrighted materials are everywhere.

  • shmartaf

    Can I copy part of any article in my web site and set up a link to original web site?

  • Graphic-Designer

    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.

  • La tang

    Thank you very much, I will keep it in mind.

  • Bill Edwards

    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 blogspot.com because it is easy.

    Thank you.

  • korean fashion clothing wholesale

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

  • acekard 2i

    Thanks for your sharing this information, good

  • r4i-dstti-itouch

    good info, Thanks,

  • Daily Good Tips

    No plagiarism

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