Online copyright breaches are numerous: never before have so many people had access to so much information, along with the means to republish it. Publishing unique content is not only better for your online reputation but it keeps you safe from inadvertent copyright breaches.
When it comes to images the situation is more complicated. Creating your own takes skill and time and it is normal for us to use photos and images from online sources. We all want to leave footprints in the sand but we must do so without treading on anyone else’s toes.
Avoid Copying Content By Mistake
- Whenever you are adding unique information that you found elsewhere use your own words and add your own slant to it with links to your sources.
- Avoid using someone else’s words by mistake. Read your source material first but do not refer to it when you are writing your posts.
- Add quotation marks, plus the source if you are quoting verbatim, but only quote a short snippet or sentence and not whole chunks of text.
- If, like me, you research and take notes by copying snippets of information be very careful when you come to write your post. When you are copying text for later use make sure you also add a link to your notes so that you know where it came from.The note taking and all around organization tool I use, One Note, is ideal for this as when you copy from the web and paste into a One Note page the link is automatically added for you. For more information on One Note please see my post – One Note Examples of Use
Copyright and Plagiarism Differences
Copyright is a legal protection and infringement is a breach of the rights of the copyright holder. Plagiarism refers to the ethical issue of stealing someone else’s ideas, which may or may not be copyrighted. Both mean that you cannot pass someone else’s work off as your own.
Copyright is automatically conferred when a work is created and does not have to be formally applied for or registered. If we do not give proper attribution we breach copyright for most forms of online content we copy.
Plagiarism, but not copyright breach, would occur if you claimed ownership of content that is in the public domain; such as publishing an old quote without the name of the person who it belonged to.
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”
In most cases, if you are referring to, or including content you found online, a link back to the original source is enough in legal terms. If formal copyright has been given, the copyright holder may be the only one with rights to distribute that content. Music and video is a prime example of this and numerous videos are taken down from YouTube because they breach copyright. If you had any of these embedded in your blog then they would no longer be available to view.
Image: Sue Bride
The law is still catching up, with test cases defining the rules for online content, especially when it comes to fair use *. Mashable reports on a few of these in Photographer Wins $1.2 Million Lawsuit Over Images Taken From Twitter.
Laws vary from country to country. In Australia online copyright is still unclear. Why creating memes is illegal in Australia explains that pretty much anything Australian’s share online is illegal, even photos of ourselves.
Fair Use is an exception which allows copyrighted work to be used in certain circumstances, as long as it does not impede on the copyright owners own rights. An example would be when online Marketers use content and images from sites they are affiliated with. Copyright Fair Use and How it Works for Online Images
“… when that picture is protected by copyright, the picture is only worth three words: cease and desist.”
Image copyright is more complicated and we need to be aware of the rules. Even if your source may seem to indicate that you have rights to copy an image, that source may have breached copyright themselves.
This once happened to me. I included a photo of a decorated publicly viewable community Christmas Tree and added a link back to the site I found it on. I had done a search for another source but could not find any that seemed the original. This image had been posted on numerous sites. Soon after I had an email from the photographer asking me to remove the image or face legal action.
To be safe, if you are not able to discover if you are free to share an image, contact the photographer or image creator for permission.
A blogger friend of mine who posted about the “weird and wonderful” would contact the person behind the topic and ask for permission and often found they were willing to contribute information too. Her posts were not only rich with wonderful images but the content was unique and insightful. Her blog became highly ranked and some of her sources (for example, a world-renowned street artist) would let her know when they had more information and images for her to share.
If you are including images downloaded from an image sharing site or stock photo site read the permissions for details of allowed usage. Do you need to provide attribution, is the image allowed for commercial purposes, can you change the image in any way, are you allowed to use it more than once?
Creative Commons is a free public system that allows copyright holders to apply a variety of licensing rights to their creative work, allowing use by others. Anyone can license their own original content and choose what rights they are going to confer. All you need to do is add CC icons to your content; you do not need to apply for a license. All CC rights require that credit is given to the license holder. You can decide if you want to allow commercial use and/or alterations to your work, and what terms you require users to pass on when they share your content. You are also able to waive all rights and enter your work into the public domain using the Public Domain CC0 — “No Rights Reserved” feature.
Image: Sue Bride
You can see CC license attribution and rights attached to the images above. For descriptions of what license icons represent and to find out more about CC check the Creative Commons Site
Tools to search for images you can use:
- With Google’s advanced search/usage rights feature you can search for images that you are free to use; but still be careful of copyright restrictions. Search Engine Land shows you “How to Find Free Images With Google’s Advanced Image Search“.
- The Creative Commons site includes a search feature where you can find licensed images on a variety of sites.
- Flickr has its own creative commons search.
- Wikimedia Commons is Wikipedia’s repository of freely usable media files. You can browse by category or perform a search of the site.
As well as blog posts we have to be aware of the implications of image copyright when posting to social networking sites too. Instead of downloading an image and re-uploading, share from the site you found the image on or re-share from another social media post.
In Understanding Image Copyright Social Media Examiner gives some examples of some top publishers who have faced legal action for breaching copyright.
Unless you have created a video yourself, it is the norm with blogs to embed publicly allowed videos from sites such as You Tube, Vimeo and Daily Motion. These automatically create backlinks to the source but be careful that the source is not breaching copyright themselves by downloading a protected video and uploading it to their own accounts. This is a regular practice where music, extra scenes or annotations are added, when images are added to music videos, or when compilation videos are created.
Where you Can Find Out More
I know I have not covered this huge topic thoroughly but hopefully I have included the basics with links to resources if you want to dig deeper. Please let me know if there is anything you think should be added in the way of information, links to resources or if you have ideas for ways to help avoid inadvertently copying content.