Copyright Rules Every Blogger Needs to Know

The Internet has changed the way we view, share and create content. Much of what is displayed on the web today comes from numerous sources. A single web page, for example, could have text, graphics, sound, and other images totaling dozens of items displayed and each one of them could be coming from independent sources. It can be so easy to think all of this content floating around is readily available to use however we like. Reality check? That's just not the case.

So often, I see bloggers taking content from others without any permission or credit given. Unfortunately, many don't realize this is often considered stealing. I know most bloggers mean well when they share content, but I think it is important to bring to light what is really going on here. There are legal ramifications in using text and images from other authors, so it is important to stay informed about best blogging and copyright practices. Here is a quick guide to keep you safe while still letting your creativity flourish!

Copyright Rules for Bloggers - A simple guide to copyright law for blogs by Dapper Fox Design, a creative resource for entrepreneurs

FIRST, WHY DOES IT EVEN MATTER?

It's important to understand that copyright laws were not established to give authors the right to deny their work but, instead, to encourage creation. The creation of material, whether it be written or graphic, is in the public's interest. So copyright law balances that fine line between what the author or creator feels is just and what is in the public's interest. But the good news is, the law tends to lean a little to the side of the public when it comes to the gray area.
 

WHAT DOES COPYRIGHT LAW INCLUDE?

Copyright law protects original works of authorship. This includes: literary, written, dramatic, artistic, musical, photographs, etc. In other words, if it can be printed or recorded - it's probably included. It's important to know that copyright exists as soon as something is created. That means the instant you take the picture, start painting, start writing, etc., it's copyrighted. The author doesn't even have to register the work in order to make it protected - it just is!
 

WHAT IS COPYRIGHT PROTECTION?

A copyright owner has four distinct, or exclusive 'rights'. They are the rights:

  • To reproduce the copyrighted work
  • To prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work
  • To distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending
  • To perform and/or display the copyrighted work publicly

Source:  17 USC Section 106
 

SO WHAT CAN I USE?

Ok, so now we know what the rights of the author are to his/her own material, but we really want to know - what can we do with someone else's material? (After all, isn't it really about me, me, me?) This question refers to what is known as 'Fair Use'. In determining fair use, a court would consider four things (completely unrelated to the preceding four rights). The four concerns of fair use* are:

Dapper Fox Design - Business + Design Resource for Bloggers and Entrepreneurs
  1. Purpose
    What are you using it for? This allows use for things such as non-profit, educational, research, and transformative work (using pieces of something to create a unique end product). If the use, however, is commercial, for entertainment, or for profit - you need permission.
     
  2. Nature of the work
    If the nature of the work is fact based and/or has been published, you should be ok. If it is fiction and/or unpublished - seek permission.
     
  3. Amount used
    If the amount used is small or less significant, it is in your favor.  If, however, you are using a large amount, or copying the core purpose of the work - again, seek permission.
     
  4. Effect of use on the market
    If your use of the material would not affect the market, or if it is not possible to obtain permission, you're on the right track.  If your use is major, long term, or has a major impact on the market though...  get permission.

Source:  17 USC Section 107

*Remember that these considerations are interrelated - not independent of each other.  You should consider all four issues on any copyrighted item.
 

HOW DO I GIVE PROPER CREDIT?

Sweet! This picture doesn't need any attribution because it has a Creative Commons License. Of course, you can always share your source since it's definitely appreciated by those giving up their creations to the CC license! This photo came from Unsplash.com, one of my favorite sites for stunning imagery under the CC license.

Sweet! This picture doesn't need any attribution because it has a Creative Commons License. Of course, you can always share your source since it's definitely appreciated by those giving up their creations to the CC license! This photo came from Unsplash.com, one of my favorite sites for stunning imagery under the CC license.

You've found some information that you want to use and you feel like you're within all of the parameters to keep things legal but you want/need to cite your source and give credit to the original author(s). This is called attribution. The main objective here is that you let the reader know that this information was created by someone else and whether or not you made any changes to it. You want the reader to be able to go straight to the source for that bit of information.

Since 'four' is our theme of the day - here are the four components of attribution along with an example of the following post:

Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
Francis of Assisi
  1. Title - Francis of Assisi Quote
  2. Author - Francis of Assisi
  3. Source - http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/francisofa121023.html
  4. License - If license is owned or granted, it should be stated.

This would be an appropriate way to display this on a web page:

Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi Quote, Source: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/francisofa121023.html


NOW WHAT ABOUT PICTURES?

It is all but impossible to create a web page of any quality without adding some flavor, i.e. pics! Don't be afraid, you are not the first person who's wanted to copy an image from another web page and use it yourself. Just be aware of these guidelines and move forward with confidence.

  1. Fair Use and Attribution
    All the same rules apply. Purpose, nature, amount, and market effect (see above). Remember, however, that 'fair use' has nothing to do with 'attribution'. Even if you attribute the source but violate fair use, you would be in the wrong.
     
  2. Licenses
    1. Royalty-Free | User pays one-time fee but may usually use the image multiple times.
    2. Rights-Managed | User pays fee for each use of image.
    3. Free for commercial use | Often referred to as 'public domain'. These images have no copyrights or rights reserved so they're pretty much free to use! This is probably the fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to use images online.  When searching for images on Google, for example, simply use 'search tools' and then modify your search to 'labeled for reuse' and you can feel pretty safe about using the images available. 
Copyright Law and Rules for Bloggers


GREAT, WHERE DO I START?

I wanted to title this 'Just Do It' but since that is obviously a Nike® registered trademark it probably wouldn't be a good idea to violate every instruction given here in the final summary. But the point is - just get started! Go ahead and create the next post that will go viral. Just do it in a more informed way. By being aware of where you are getting your content, you can credit sources and filter selections to avoid pain and suffering down the road. Listed below are some great resources with which to begin:

  1. Public Domain 
  2. Creative Common Search 
  3. Free For Commercial Use 
  4. Dapper Fox Design (because remember? We needed four of everything!)

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Please note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Please read site Terms & Conditions.