It is extremely important that you understand the law when it comes to copyrights if you’re going to write a blog, write articles, share things on social media and when adding content to the web in general. Copyrights apply to videos, images, the written word and any other creative content. Here are some terms you should be familiar with.
Public Domain – Works that are not copyrighted or for which the copyright has expired. You can freely use anything that is public domain without permission. Just because it does not have a copyright symbol on it or around it does not mean it is automatically public domain. This article at Nolo.com explains how to find out if something is public domain or not. It is important to check. You can be sued for using copyrighted material without permission. Any work created by an employee while working for the US government is public domain, but not if they work for state or local government.
Fair Use – This is the exception to the rule about using works that are copyrighted. As long as your use of copyrighted material does not cut into the profits of the copyright holder, as long as you don’t copy the entire works and only use a portion, as long as you attribute the source, as long as your use of the material is not for profit, then you might be okay with using small portions of someone else’s work.
From Wikipedia, the four factors of determining fair Use. keep in mind, Wikipedia is not the equivalent of asking your attorney.
The fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
You can copy large portions of copyrighted material if you are reviewing the material or creating a parody of the material as long as your use of the material does not supercede the intended use of the material by the owner or limit their ability to profit from the material.
Best Practice – If you want to copy anything or use something you found on someone’s website or blog, find their contact information and ask permission in writing. Trust me. You do not need their material bad enough to risk being sued. Some companies, like Getty Images, make more money suing people than they do selling the rights to use images. That may be an exaggeration, but they love to search for people using their images and send threatening letters demanding you give them money or they will sue you. it doesn’t have to be a big company like Getty. There are many individuals who live to sue and who think every word they write is the equivalent of Shakespeare or Edgar Allan Poe. So, ask permission or just write unique content of your own.
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