A friend of mine posted a cool image on his blog recently. I asked where he found it, thinking maybe he had a lead on a royalty-free image resource I didn’t know about.
His reply? “Oh, I just Googled what I was looking for.”
Another woman, this time a client, patiently explained to me that “anyone” is allowed to reprint the articles she’s written for a major blog network, as long as they link back to the original.
One quick look at the site’s terms made it clear that under no circumstances was it okay for another site to reprint their content – attribution notwithstanding.
Today, I saw a woman on Facebook state, “The Internet is Public Domain.”
Holy crap, how is it that people are so misinformed, not only about the rights of others, but about their own legal protection?
Copyright – It’s Not That Complicated
Here’s everything you need to know about copyright: The very minute you write, record, sketch, film, or in any other way put any idea from your head onto paper – digital or otherwise – it is copyrighted. Period. It doesn’t matter if you use the cute little copyright symbol, you don’t have to state it in your blog footer, and you sure as hell don’t have to file a form with the government. Copyright just IS.
This blog post was copyrighted the instant I wrote it. Your article is copyrighted. Photos on Flickr are copyrighted.
What that means to you as a blogger, is that others do not have the right to reprint your stuff. What it means to you as a “content curator” is that you do not have the right to reprint my stuff. Or anyone else’s, unless they specifically say so.
And no, a backlink is not sufficient, and I won’t be happy just to have you posting my articles and sending me traffic. I will, however, be happy to send a DMCA takedown notice to your host and get your account terminated.
Public Domain – It’s Not What You Think
Public domain content is that which is no longer protected by copyright. That might be because the copyright is expired, because the creator of the content explicitly declared it to be in the public domain, or in some cases, because it is a government publication.
The Internet is NOT public domain. Simply posting something for you to read does not take away my rights as the copyright holder.
To learn more about what is and is not public domain, and what you can do with content that is in the public domain, I highly recommend the Public Domain Treasure Hunter. Debra has spent years studying public domain, and she’s helped thousands of others understand (and even profit from) it as well.
Creative Commons – Free to Use, Sort Of
Creative Commons is a special type of licensing that the creator of a work – written or otherwise – can grant. There are variations of the Creative Commons license, so authors and others can choose to allow their works to be used in a variety of ways, with or without attribution.
For example, there are thousands of photos on Flickr that have a CC license. You can find them with a search, and you are free to use them on your blog, in printed material, in your videos, and anywhere else you need an image. But there are some restrictions. You cannot (generally) use CC works to create something you’re going to sell. So you can’t take a cool photo from Flickr and run over to Cafepress.com and create posters with it. Likewise, you probably can’t use it in a commercial advertisement. You also must provide attribution – that means a link back to the original work.
If you’re a writer or creator of any type of content, no one else has the right to reprint your stuff without your express permission. And yes, that includes Pinterest.
If you’re a blogger or site owner, you do not have the right to reprint stuff you find on the Internet, unless such content specifically states you have that right.
I’m not going to get into “fair use” and “curation” and all the other what ifs. If you really want to know more, head over to www.copyright.gov or contact a lawyer.
The best way to make sure you’re not breaking the law? Write your own stuff. It’s that simple.
Want to reprint this article on your blog or in your newsletter? You can, because I’ve licensed it under Creative Commons, non-commercial, attribution required. That means you are free to use it, as long as you link back to me. That license does not extend to any other content on this site, however.
Reprint Dos and Don’ts – or, Why a Link is not Enough by Cindy Bidar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.