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MUST KNOW: What Bloggers Should Know About Copyrights

What Bloggers Should Know About Copyrights

What Bloggers Should Know About Copyrights

In the internet age everyone can become an author, writer, or journalist. This has lead to an increase in the flow of information. The increase in flow of information has also lead to an increase in copyright infringement and plagiarism. For established writers and bloggers this could create problems such as loss of income. For new or struggling writers someone else made read your material and use it as their own. This creates a lot of questions for writers. In an effort to clear up some of the confusion and myths surrounding copyright law, I sat down with Perry Clegg, a Copyright and Trademark Attorney.

There is no copyright infringement if the content is changed or I am going to alter it.

False. You may get ideas from another’s work, but simply changing it does not exonerate you from infringement. This is a far more complex question that usually requires an attorney to answer on a case by case basis. Some things such as reviews can use images and small snippets from books in order to give the review and may not be considered infringement in some instances. Sometimes it depends on the content that you are copying. If it gives away key points of the story you are at more risk than other parts.

If there is no copyright notice, a work is not protected.

False. Having a copyright notice on your work of art has its benefits, however, it is not required by law to be protected.

The client owns the copyright if s/he pays for the work.

Depends.  Payment for the work does not automatically transfer copyrights to the client. The author of a work owns the work unless there is a written agreement having “work for hire” language or that assigns the copyrights to the client.  If you are a ghost-writer for someone, or you pay someone to write for you make sure your contract or agreement transfers the copyright to the paying party.

If you didn't know of the copyright, it isn't infringement.

Copyright is a strict liability claim, so ignorance of is not a defense.

If it has been anonymously published on the internet, it is in the public domain.

A work is not in the public domain merely because it was published anonymously.  Copyrights continue until legally expired unless the author expressly assigns or grants them to the public domain. If you are unable to locate the author to get permission, then you shouldn’t use the work.

If the owner emails you a copy, you can post it on the internet.

Your ability to use what you received by email will depend on the circumstances.  If the person that emailed you the work was the author, then you may have the right to use it for personal use, but it will depend on the scope of permission given by the author.  Each case may be different.  Always use discretion and avoid publishing or distributing without the author’s consent. You have legal right to the copy but do not have legal permission to the copyright.  

If I buy a work I can do what I want with it.

You have legal right to the copy for personal use only, but do not have legal permission to copy for other persons the copyright. This will depend in part on the scope of the license that came with the purchase.  If you purchase a copyrighted work such as a book, you typically have the right to resell the work to another person, but you do not have the right to make copies for others.

If you give credit to the author you do not need permission to use his/her work.

False.  Giving the original author credit may help you avoid plagiarism, but it does not prevent copyright infringement. You still need permission from the author or owner of the copyright.

If a book is out of print, it is in the public domain.

This depends on when the book was originally published.  If it was published in 1922 or earlier it is in the Public Domain.

Using something for nonprofit educational purposes is automatically “fair use” (factually dependent).

False. If you are using something for a non-profit educational purpose  then you may still be committing copyright infringement. Here is a checklist that can help you establish fair use.  Even with the checklist, this is still something for which you should seek the counsel of an intellectual property attorney.

A work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to obtain copyrights.

False.  Copyrights arise through the creative act embodying the expression in a tangible media.  Registration merely allows you to enforce the rights.  If someone copies a work and the author later registers the copyright, then the person who copied can still be liable.

If you use only a small portion of work, it is not copyright infringement.

False.  Copying any amount of original expression can be copyright infringement. There may be instances where small amounts of copying for use as news or other circumstances that may be “fair use.” However, this is a question that has too many variables to answer without consulting an intellectual property attorney.  In one instance a magazine article used only 300 words of a 200,000 and had committed copyright infringement Harper& Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985).  This is a very complex issue that considers the type of content used and the purpose of the use, not the amount.

If the author does not enforce the copyright, s/he loses it.

Copyright protection is never lost, unless you give permission to another to use it, or the copyright protection expires. However, failure to protect your copyright may lead to a lot of rampant unauthorized uses.

When can I legally copy something that is printed?

You can legally copy anything that was published in 1922 or earlier. There are other exceptions, but for anything after 1923 you should consult an attorney or get permission.

If the author doesn't live in the United States do I still need permission?

Foreign authors automatically receive copyright protection if they live in a country that belongs to the Berne Convention or Universal Copyright Convention. If you want to use a foreign authors work, you need to go through the legal avenues.

How to Protect My Writing
There are steps you can take to protect your writings.  You don’t have to register your copyright initially but may need to if you have to enforce your rights.  The biggest problem is finding out the infringement.  Here are a few things you can do.

Copyright Infringement Checkers

There are programs that you can buy or use that will check for copyright violations.  It is advisable to use some of these programs if you have a lot of content available online or place a high value on what you have created.  

Google Search

You can copy one or two lines of your text and place them in a Google search.  This will bring up matching documents.  It is not as efficient as a copyright program but it is free.  You may want to try lines from different chapters in different search engines besides Google.

Deterrence Factor

Some infringement programs have a badge you can put on your site that say “protected by”  this is often a deterrent.  Some people don’t want to risk getting caught so they will avoid these.  Also make it clear that you will prosecute.  

What should someone do if they are the victim of copyright infringement?

It is possible to send your own cease and desist letter, however, coming directly from an attorney usually has a bigger impact.  If the cease and desist letter doesn’t have an impact, the services of an attorney will be needed.

Are there any questions I missed that you would like covered?

Andy Johnson,   Trademark Andy Johnson has worked in E Commerce for more than 7 Years.  He has helped launch numerous blogs and websites spanning a variety of industries.


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