If you run a blog, it’s presumably because you’ve got something unique to say. This probably means that almost all of the content you produce will be original. If 100% of your content is new and original, you don’t have anything to worry about, as far as copyright law goes.
However, if you’re a blogger, you probably also know that it’s not always possible for every single piece of content on your blog to be original, and that sometimes, you will be tempted to appropriate the work of another creator for your own use. This is especially the case when you simply need a “filler” image to accompany a blog post. These are usually stock images that have something to do with the subject matter of an individual post.
The time and involved in creating one of these images would make it very impractical to do it for every new piece of writing on a blog. For that reason, it’s pretty common for bloggers to use images created by others, usually obtained through a simple image search on their preferred search engine, and to use the best image they find.
However, this is technically a violation of U.S. copyright law. While such violations rarely result in any action by the copyright owners, they have a right to do bring such actions, and sometimes do.
There are quite a few behaviors that might give rise to a copyright infringement lawsuit, which bloggers engage in commonly, because they don’t intuitively seem to cause any harm.
For example, duplicating a copyrighted image, for virtually any purpose, infringes on a copyright owner’s exclusive right to reproduce (copy) their works.
Backing up for a moment, I should explain what copyright law entails. Copyright law is designed to create an economic incentive for creativity by giving creators of original works “exclusive rights” to economically exploit those works.
These exclusive rights include the right to reproduce (copy) the work, the right to distribute copies to the public, to display the work publicly, and to create derivative works from the original work (film adaptations from books, for example).
None of these rights become any less important or applicable, simply because a work exists only in digital form, on the Internet. However, the very nature of digital content makes it extremely easy to copy. Simply uploading a file to a hosting service, or emailing it to a friend, entails making at least one (and usually more) digital copies.
Perhaps because of this fact, writers and other content-producers who operate entirely online have a somewhat cavalier attitude when it comes to appropriating content they find on the Internet.
So, how can bloggers avoid getting caught up in a copyright dispute? As mentioned above, the best way is to only use original content. But with the understanding that that this is usually impractical, here are some tips on avoiding legal problems (at least with respect to copyright) with your blog.
Your best bet is to find works that are in the public domain (i.e. not protected by copyright). You should note that being widely available to the public, or failing to carry the copyright notice (©), does not place a work in the public domain.
You should look for works for which the copyright has expired; a copyright lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years, so this will not apply to any work created recently. This basically means that you probably don’t need to worry about copyright issues when using a reproduction of a renaissance-era painting, or something of similar age.
Also, any works produced by the U.S. government are, by law, not subject to copyright. So, all of those cool images and animations produced by NASA? You can use them on your blog to your heart’s content (though it is considered good form to give credit to the appropriate government agency when you use them).
You should also look for works where the owner has waived some of the exclusive rights provided by copyright law. When the owner of a copyright gives others permission to use their works for a certain purpose, they are said to have “licensed” the work.
An organization known as “Creative Commons” has created several pre-written licenses that copyright owners can easily apply to their works.
The one that’s used most often allows the work to be used for any non-commercial purpose, as long as the person using the work provides an attribution to the original author. Most search engines have a setting which, if enabled, will only display images covered by a Creative Commons license in the results.
If you know who created a work, you should also try contacting them and asking for permission to use it.
And if you’re unclear if any contemplated use of a work might infringe on somebody’s intellectual property rights, you should not hesitate to consult with a copyright lawyer.
Have you copyrighted your blog content ?
Image Credit: Mike Blogs