Stay out of legal trouble as a blogger – get to know copyright law

How much do you know about copyright? Republishing a blog post or using someone else’s image isn’t 100% correct but you gave them credit so it’s okay, right? Wrong! I have noticed a lot more bloggers tweeting about their posts or images being stolen lately, it’s always very disheartening to have something you spent a lot of time/money on taken. The problem is that the whole area of copyright can be very confusing and the majority of people don’t know the “rules”. Most of the time when I email the blogger asking them to remove my content, their response is that they didn’t realise they weren’t allowed to do what they did. Although I usually let it go, not everyone will. It’s a bloggers responsibility to learn about the topic to prevent an issues arising.

With this becoming more of a problem, I decided to write this series on copyright. Hopefully by providing information it will help people understand copyright and reduce the amount of issues in the blogging community (and prevent me from locking my content to members only!)

First up in this series is an overview of Copyright, Creative Commons and Fair Use as well as a summary of what is and isn’t allowed, which I’ll expand on later.

Disclaimer

I am not a lawyer, this post is based on personal experience and learnings. If you have questions about plagiarism, copyright laws, etc., be sure to consult a qualified legal professional.

What is Copyright?

Copyright gives authors and creators the exclusive rights to their work. Their work includes things like articles, writings, photography, graphics, video, music, designs and other intellectual property. Copyright gives the creator the right to copy, distribute, perform and display their work. It also allows them to create a derivative work (turn a series of posts into a PDF, turn a book into a movie, etc.) and benefit from the commercial use of their work. It protects any original works by them from being stolen or misused and gives them control of how it their work is used by others.

In the majority of countries, copyright is automatic! Your blog/site/shop content is already protected by copyright. As soon as you write or create content and publish it, it is copyrighted and protected for your lifetime plus 70 years after, then it becomes public domain.

Having a copyright notice or symbol on your site or work isn’t necessary or required. With the exception of fair use, if someone uses your content without prior permission then they are breaking the law and legal action can be taken! Don’t believe me? Read this story about the blogger who got sued for using a photographers image or this story about a popular YouTuber, Michelle Phan, who got sued for using another Artists music in her videos.

There are a variety of copyright licenses with different restrictions and terms of how, where and when copyrighted material can be used. You, as the copyright holder, can also sell or licence this right to another person allowing them rights to your work. Purchasing a blog template or ebook does not give you copyright to that piece of work meaning you cannot reproduce, sell or infringe on the copyright holders exclusive rights, without their permission to do so.

What is Creative Commons?

Even with Creative Commons the creator still owns copyright. A Creative Commons License defines how others may copy, alter and distribute copyrighted works without having to negotiate terms or wondering if their intended use will be acceptable to the creator. Certain licenses will allow you to freely share their work once you credit the original author, stop you from adapting their work or require that you release any modifications under the same license. You can see those licenses on Creative Commons Licenses.

What is Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when work which is protected by copyright is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner. Basically it means going against the terms of the creator. Most of the time it’s unintentional because people just don’t understand copyright or realise that it is stealing but when it comes to copyright infringement you can’t hide behind “I didn’t know”. We all, at some point, will have violated someone else’s copyright and as a Blogger it is very likely that we will have our own work stolen. It’s important for us all (myself included) to be aware of this.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism occurs when someone uses your content without your permission and claims it as their own original work or fails to credit you as the source. Many of us know that word-for-word copying without attribution is illegal and unacceptable but Plagiarism is more than that.

According to Wikipedia

Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the ‘wrongful appropriation’, ‘close imitation’ or ‘purloining and publication’ of another author’s ‘language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions’ and the representation of them as one’s own original work…

If you copy the work of another but tweak it (change a few words, change around the sentence structure, etc) and pass it off as your own, you are still guilty of plagiarism.

What is Fair Use?

According to Wikipedia

Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the creator. Examples of fair use include quoting a portion of the work for commentary, criticism, parody, news reporting, research and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author’s work under a four-factor balancing test.

What does that mean? Fair Use recognizes that certain uses of the copyright protected work do not require permission from the copyright holder. Fair use allows for the use of the copyright protected work under certain circumstances such as for commentary, parody and in schools/colleges for education purposes. Four Factors determine what may be considered Fair Use – the nature, purpose, amount used and the effect on the market.

For example Fair Use allows a film critic to include a clip from a film in their review to illustrate a point, since they probably wouldn’t get permission to do so from the creator if the review was negative.

Copyright Rules – Summary

I’ll be discussing these more throughout this series of posts (which are linked below) but here is a summary of the main points of copyright.

  • Copyright gives authors and creators the exclusive rights to their work.
  • Copyright is automatic – it protects all work as soon as it has been written or recorded.
  • A Copyright symbol, notice or policy is not required, although is recommended to remind people that the work is protected and give information for terms of use.
  • The correct copyright notice format is “[Copyright or ©] [year(s) of creation/ publication] by [author/site name]“. Examples – Copyright 2014 John Doe or © 2011-2014 Jane Doe.
  • You can also include a rights statement in your Copyright notice, which isn’t necessary but can provide extra information about your terms – All/Some/No Rights Reserved.
  • You may quote excerpt/snippet of work. You may publish excerpts, not whole articles.
  • You have to ask author’s permission to reproduce their work, or reuse it in any way.
  • Attribution, crediting or linking to the owner is not a substitute for permission.
  • It’s illegal and unethical to violate someones copyright.
  • Because something is publicly or freely available, does not mean it is free of copyright

More posts in this Copyright Series

What is Copyright, Creative Commons and Fair Use? – An Overview
Tips for protecting your content + Writing a copyright notice
How to check for plagiarism and what to do if someone steals your content
How to legally use images in your blog posts
How to find the source of any image online and see who is using your images

Further Information / References

Plagiarism Today
Plagiarism
iCopyright
Creative Commons Licenses
20 Best Free Anti Plagiarism Tools by Blog Herald
Copyright Explained – I may copy it right by Smashing Magazine
What to do when someone steals your content by lorelle

I want to know your thoughts on this? Ever had something plagiarised or taken without your permission?

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12 Comments

  1. I am SO happy to read this post. I had an image taken from my blog and used on someone else’s blog.. and that blogger is a very big blogger in Ireland (I think you know what happened?) and I was so angry that they’d just pulled my image from Google and then tried to pass it off as their own. When I challenged them about it, they were very apologetic and gave me credit but it happens all the time. I just don’t want to watermark my photo’s as I think it spoils them.. but it’s basically watermark your photos or they will be stolen – it’s a joke! xxx

    Gemma | Miss Makeup Magpie

    1. Yeah I saw that and I would of thought she would have known better. It really does happen all the time, I’m noticing it so much recently and have found even more of my own content (templates, icons, tutorials) taken and even sold!!! It’s very frustrating! I love helping bloggers and posting tutorials but the people who take advantage of that really do ruin it sometimes.

  2. This is a great, and very important topic. So glad you are writing a series on it.

    One thing I’ve always been curious about is, how do you find out if your content or photos are being used somewhere else on the web? It would take days to do a google search for every single blog post title and image. Is there a website or service that does a scan for you?

    It really makes me sad when I see other bloggers posting recipes to their blog and passing it off on their own when I’ve seen the recipe in several other places on Pinterest. I guess they don’t believe in Karma.

    V

    1. Thank you, I thought instead of fighting it and feeling like I should stop sharing so much I’d just write about it. Hopefully it will help 🙂 I have that coming up in part 3, along with what to do if you do find content that belongs to you.

  3. I have found my images used on a few blogs recently. To be fair I do watermark all my photos and the bloggers did link the pics back to me but I was annoyed that they didn’t think to ask me first. I have had to add a comment on the side of my blog stating not to use my photos or content elsewhere without contacting me first. I makes me feel like I’m being shirty but I would never just take someone else’s images without asking if it was ok.

    1. Ahh so annoying! At least they’re watermarked and linked back to you 🙂 I agree though, if people emailed me first I’d probably have no problem letting them use content.

  4. Love that you are touching on this topic! It is so important yet so many people abuse it. Can’t wait to read more!

  5. Hi there Ellie!
    I’m a relatively new blogger who came across your blog while googling some things for improving my blog layout. Thank you so much for sharing all sorts of tips with us! I can’t even tell you just how helpful you are. After some clicking around and reading of quite a few of your posts, I came across this one, which I think is one of the most important, if not definitely the most important post you’ve made. It’s important to respect the hard work that others have put forth in their content and it isn’t fair at all to take something without giving credit where it is due. This beginner’s guide to copyright law was super helpful and I’ll definitely refer back to it in the future to make sure that I’m not unfairly using anyone else’s work.

    Once again, thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

    1. Hey Alice, thank you so much! I’m so glad you’ve liked my tutorials and delighted that you found this series helpful. I agree, so important that we all work towards respecting each others work as this area grows!

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