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Copyright issues for bloggers, website owners and other content creators [Part 5]

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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.

Creative Commons

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:

  • Attribution (BY):

    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.

  • Non-commercial (NC):

    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.

  • Share-alike (SA):

    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.

  • No-derivatives (ND):

    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)

"Copyright issues for bloggers, website owners and other content creators [Part 5]", 5 out of 5 based on 1 ratings.
  1. Sachin Khandelwal says

    Hi Navin,

    Your article is very informative and helpful to people like me who know very little about copyrights. I’ve a very specific question. I want to include the star rating of product review published in Times of India in my website/app. It’ll show the name Times of India (in the font they use) and the stars given to that product. It’ll also be a hyperlink to their webpage for full description.

    Do I’ve to take their permission from Times of India or Movie producers/distributors Or it’ll exactly fit under Fair Use. And if reqd. will they give me permission to do so?. My website can have ads.

    Sachin

    1. Navin Kabra says

      @Sachin,
      My understanding is that you do not need permission for taking very short pieces of content. Or, more accurately, what you are taking should not be a “substantial part” of the content. Since you’ll be taking just the star rating from from a page that contains a full review, it is obvious that you are not taking a “substantial” part of the content. You do not need permission. In fact, in addition to star ratings, you could even take short excerpts from the actual reviews themselves. See, for example, what wogma.com is doing

      By contrast, if you’re taking the star ratings from a page that only contains star ratings, then you are violating copyright since you’re taking a substantial part of the content. Thus, for example, if you take all the ratings and excerpts from the aforementioned wogma page, you’ll be taking the most important content of that page, and then will be in violation of wogma’s copyright.

      1. Raju says

        Navin Sir!
        I have one doubt.
        I am a state Government Employ. Also I am the coach of Martial Arts and Yoga!
        I have created one webpage and blogs my self for great skills!

        Like Martial Arts Yoga etc.,
        Do I need any permission or License??

  2. Navin Kabra says

    Abhishek,
    1. My understanding is that a few lines with a link back to original website is fine.
    2. I do know of websites which are doing exactly this, and who are copying the entire article (with a link back to the original website) without getting permission from the original website. So far they haven’t gotten into trouble (as far as I know), but I’m fairly sure that this is illegal and they _could_ get into trouble.
    3. Even if you did not have banner ads, copying entire articles would still be illegal in most situations.
    4. If you did want to copy entire articles, then yes, you would need permission from each individual website.
    5. When embarking on a serious business venture, you shouldn’t get your legal information (only from) a website. A real lawyer can find subtleties that are specific to your situation, which are not covered by a general post on the internet.

    1. Abhishek says

      Thanks a lot Navin for your replies. I will definitely talk to a lawyer for the same.

      Thanks and Regards
      Abhishek

  3. Abhishek says

    Hi Navin,

    Very informative article. I am trying to launch a local information website for a city. I would like to source news items relevant to the city from various news agencies. Do I need to buy the rights from each web site? Can I use a few lines with the news headline and then redirect to the original website without any charges? Mine is going to be a website where I propose to have banner ads.

    Thanks
    Abhishek

  4. Bhupender says

    Thank you, Navin. That relieves me of a great burden.

  5. Bhupender says

    Nice write-up. But I have some doubts. I see that you have ads on your site and there are news items like the one “Indian Govt asks Google to..” which is possible a PTI new or a Govt release. The website of PTI prohibits such use. To quote from its terms of use “The use of the Content on any other web site or in a networked computer environment for any purpose is prohibited.” I am sorry I can hardly decipher the whole text given on the site. With reference to the above please tell me if such an use is a copyright violation. I am asking this because I am in process of getting a website of my own on current affairs.

    1. Navin Kabra says

      @Bhupender:
      1. Reading a PTI news or other release, and then rewriting the story in your own words is NOT a copyright violation.
      2. Excerpting a sentence or two from a PTI news item is usually not a copyright violation (although, Reuters has been known to try suing websites for such copying)
      3. Excerpting more than that – e.g. an entire paragraph – is usually a copyright violation, and news agencies regularly sue for violations.
      4. Of course, you can buy access to PTI. Often, blogs (like trak.in) can/will buy access to a news feed like PTI or Reuters to be on the cutting edge of breaking news.

      I hope this answers your questions.

      1. Arun Prabhudesai says

        Navin,

        Appreciate you quick replies to reader queries…Thank you!

  6. G B Kale says

    Can we translate the articles on web in other language eg marathi and publish in blog or web site? Does this also needs permission? OR we can attribute to the web site.
    I wish to translate some good articles in marathi and of course for non-commercial purpose

    1. Navin Kabra says

      No, you cannot translate and publish any material without the consent of the original author.

      For translation to Marathi, for non-commercial purpose, I think you have two choices:
      1. Ask the author for permission. In most cases, I think they’ll be happy to have their content translated
      2. You can “take your chances”. It is very likely that the original authors will not object to this “stealing”, especially if they had no intentions of translating in Marathi themselves.

      By the way, you should check out TechMarathi which has been created with exactly this purpose.

  7. Viral says

    Hello Navin,

    Nice writing on Copyrights and Patents. I especially enjoyed reading last bit of blogging and site norms for copying related issues.

    Congrats for the huge effort for a 5 post series.

    1. Navin Kabra says

      Thanks @Viral,
      One of the things that spurred me to write these posts was because I saw a lot of people around me flouting the norms and laws, and I was convinced that most of them are doing it out of ignorance. Hence I wanted people to know what to do and what not to.

  8. sahil says

    thanks navin. had recently been threatened to be sued for writing a review. was sure they couldn’t do anything, but this just confirmed it. thanks once again.

    1. Navin Kabra says

      @Sahil, exactly my point. Unscrupulous companies all over the world try to intimidate bloggers into withdrawing negative content, and it is important to know when to back down, and when not to.

      And thanks for giving a real live “local” example – this just underlines the point that such things can happen to anybody. Hence it is good to be well informed.

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