We are very pleased to offer a 2 part blog post from Barbara Ingrassia, Copyright Manager extraordinaire, for Our Little Books Guest Post Wednesday. You may think Copyright is a boring subject, but it is a subject that can be VERY expensive for you in today's copy and paste digital world and one where ignorance will be no excuse. This first part will deal with what you can do with other peoples' work and the second part will be devoted to how you can protect your own work. You need to be aware!
One aspect of writing that can be confusing or overlooked is the role of copyright in all that material floating around in the cyberworld. The Internet has opened access to so many wonderful resources that it becomes so easy to search/copy/paste/send without considering that someone probably owns the rights to that content. However, using 3rd party content without permission from its rightful owner can result in expensive litigation, huge monetary damage awards, and a compromised reputation. Unfortunately, copyright law (the right to make a copy) is complex and often confusing; there are no easy answers. Every proposed use is “unique” and dependent on the facts and details of the situation. “IT DEPENDS” is the safest fast answer when you use someone's work. Here are some guidelines for wading through the gray murky ooze that is copyright in the digital age.
The easiest thought for you to have when you want to repost or use someone else's work is to assume that content is copyright-protected until you can determine otherwise. Copyright protection applies to “original creative content at the moment it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” including documents, articles, books, white papers, letters, websites, blogposts, email messages, inter-office memos, social media posts, photos, charts, illustrations, cartoons, musical and dramatic compositions, recorded audio, video and even notes scrawled on a paper napkin. Once something is created onto something (i.e., not verbal), it becomes the author's copyright.
We are taught to look for a notice of copyright, typically a © with a date, name, and All Rights Reserved after something written. However, since 1989 in the U.S., a notice of copyright (that © you see) is not required to establish copyright, so its absence is not a reliable indication of a work’s status. So, if you don't see that ©, it does not automatically mean you can use content without permission. In fact, the rules of copyright in the U.S. have varied so much over the past 200 years that a chart has been developed to try to sort it all out: http://librarycopyright.net/resources/digitalslider or http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/docs/copyright2014.pdf
How about on the internet, out there in cyberspace? Content is so easily accessible, therefore it must be free to use, and how would anyone know if you used something anyway? Unfortunately, that mindset is the easiest way to get yourself in trouble. Being on the internet does not change the copyright rules. If you see something written, recorded, or played whether or not it is on the internet or printed in a book, if the content would be copyrighted in the print/analog world, it is copyrighted in the online/digital world. Just because you CAN copy and paste, doesn’t mean you should.
Plagiarism and copyright infringement are easily confused—and not mutually exclusive. Providing attribution (listing where the quote came from) to the source of 3rd party content is essential, but it is not the same as “permission to use.” IT DEPENDS…on the Who, What, When, Where, Why of a proposed use. Providing attribution protects you from charges of plagiarism (theft), but the specifics of the use can still be copyright infringement. Regardless of the copyright status, lack of attribution is plagiarism. You want to guard against both.
There are some exceptions. For example, content created by employees of the U.S. government in the course of their employment responsibilities are in the public domain—not protected by copyright. These can be great sources of content. While content on a .gov website is in the public domain, some content may have been licensed by the government for inclusion on a .gov site. Once again, don’t assume; look for “terms and conditions of use.” These days, .gov sites are pretty good about indicating if some content on a site is not in the public domain. (Note: this applies only to works of the U.S. government; it does not include all works of state and municipal governments. Once again, IT DEPENDS!)
There is also a third copyright area. Between being © and being in the Public Domain, are works that have been licensed by the copyright owner under a Creative Commons license. The copyright owner (frequently the author of the work) designates that under specific conditions, a prospective user does not have to seek permission to use the content. Types of content available may include images, music, video, or media. However, in all cases, proper attribution must be given. SEE: http://Search.creativecommons.org
But there is good news. You CAN manage copyright so it doesn’t manage you. To learn more about what is and is not protected by copyright, see Copyright Basics—a circular from the U. S. Copyright Office http://copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf. However, the best rule of thumb: if in doubt - check it out, link to it, carefully summarize it in your own words, use bullets, seek permission from the copyright owner, or use something else.
Stay tuned for next week's post where I will discuss how you can protect your own content!
Barbara Ingrassia is a Certified Copyright Manager who provides one-on-one consultations, workshops, and seminars on all issues copyright. To engage Barbara for an audit of your website for copyright issues or for more information about copyright, request the free 16 Page report 10 Biggest Copyright Mistakes Small Business Owners Make AND How to Avoid Them! by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line CREPORT. Manage copyright. Don’t let it manage You!℠
The content of this post is © 2014 Barbara C. Ingrassia All Rights Reserved.