This is the last in my series of articles that give a practical, simplified overview of Intellectual Property Rights. It would be a good idea to skim the overview article, and the article on understanding copyrights further before jumping into this one.
There is widespread ignorance of copyright issues amongst website owners a bloggers. Many of them don’t understand the kind of trouble they can get into for improperly including copyrighted material on their sites. Others don’t understand their rights under copyright law, and are easily scared when served with a baseless legal notice. This article is intended to give a quick overview of what is allowed and what isn’t.
Basically, you cannot put anything (text, images, music, videos, photos) on your blog that was created by someone else. Except in the following circumstances (also known as fair use):
- If you are reviewing or criticizing some work, you can use excerpts from that work in your review. This includes photos, movie stills, short video clips, a paragraph or two from their text.
- A newspaper, magazine or similar periodical can reproduce part of a work (or sometimes even whole) for reporting current events. Whether a “blog” constitutes a “similar periodical” is a legally grey area, but is probably acceptable.Thus, if someone gives a public talk, you can quote them in your blog without their permission. However, including his entire PowerPoint slideshow would require his permission.
- Use of a logo, or trademark, or product photos in a review of someone else’s product is allowed, as long as it is clear that you are not selling the product.
- When in doubt, remember: re-use of short excerpts of text is almost always OK in most circumstances. However, re-use of parts of images, or sound/music/video are usually not OK, except in the circumstances listed above. Using a part of a photograph that belongs to someone else in the theme of your website can result in a hefty bill being sent to you. (This has happened to people I know.)Including some nice music in the background audio of your flash intro is a copyright violation. You are liable, even if the violation was done by some lowly employee of the outsourcing company that did your website.
- Don’t be afraid of legal threats. A company cannot force you to remove a negative review, or report of some event from your site, and neither can it force you to remove it’s name from the article – as long as what you write is the truth, or your opinion.
Note however: If your website has statements damaging to someone’s reputation, and those can’t be proven to be true, then you could be in trouble with defamation laws and you better remove the content.
After the success of the free and open source software movement some people felt that a similar movement was needed for the non software world of creative works. The Creative Commons movement is essentially a movement that allows artists and authors to publish their work under the Creative Commons license, a GPL like “free” license.
The basic idea behind the Creative Commons license is that anybody is free to use the creative work as long as they follow one or more of the conditions listed below. The author can pick and choose any combination of these conditions. At the time of publishing, the author indicates which ones s/he wishes to enforce. The conditions are:
If this condition is chosen, anybody who re-uses the work must attribute the original author. Use of the work without attribution is then a copyright violation and the original author can sue for damages.
If this condition is included, then the work can be re-used only for non-commercial purposes. If your blog has ads, you cannot use such works. If you are a for profit company, your website cannot use such works.
If this condition is included, then anybody who re-uses the work, must release the new derived work under the same license. For example, Wikipedia articles are licensed under a creative commons share-alike license. So, if I use a substantial chunk of material from Wikipedia in my article, then I would be forced to release the entire article under the same license.
If this condition is included, then this work can only be re-used as-it-is, without any modifications.
Each of the above conditions is known by the two letter abbreviation given in parenthesis. A creative commons license indicates which conditions are included by mentioning the abbreviations. Thus, the copyright notice on my own website states that it’s a CC-BY-NC license – meaning that people can copy it as long as they attribute me, and don’t use it in a commercial context.
Note for those who read the open software licenses article: The CC-BY license is like the Apache license, and the CC-BY-SA license is like the GPL.
If you wish to embed photos, music or videos in your website, make sure you’re doing it legally. There is lots of CC-licensed content out there, and a number of websites sites (like EveryStockPhoto) allow you to search for this content to reuse in your site. But make sure you follow the BY/NC/ND/SA rules.
Other Articles in Series:
Copyrights, Patents & Intellectual Property Rights: An Overview
Understanding Patents further
Understanding Copyrights further
Understanding Open Source Software Licenses
Copyright issues for bloggers, website owners and other content creators (current)