Hey y’all – today’s tech tip post isn’t exactly tech tips, but more of a general introduction to something that does come up in writing a blog – what is copyright and how/when/where does it apply? In other words, copyright basics for bloggers.
Let me start with a big disclaimer – I am NOT a lawyer and this is NOT legal advice. What I am is someone who had to do a lot of copyright research in my former teaching/theatre director career and someone who has filed a few copyrights myself. If you have a specific copyright question you should consult with a lawyer specializing in intellectual property.
Also, today’s post is going to concentrate on what I understand about US copyright laws. Different countries have different laws that I am not necessarily familiar with. For more information about US laws, I recommend going straight to the source at copyright.gov
So here we go:
What is copyright?
Copyright is a set of rights given to anyone who creates an original work – written, visual, sculptural, musical, dramatic, photographic, etc. Basically it means that if you create something, you get rights to say how and if it can be used.
In practical terms, what this usually means is that you cannot make another copy of something – electronic or tangible – that you don’t have a license to use.
How do I know if something is copyrighted?
Anything that copyright protection would be extended to has those rights UPON CREATION. You don’t have to register – registration gives you the ability to seek punitive damages, but even non registered things have copyright protection. So unless you created it you should assume it is copyrighted and you cannot use it without permission.
Lets take a common scenario – you need to create a blog graphic button. So you head to Google Images, find some stuff you like, right click and save to your computer to use. That’s fine, right? NO! Unless you created it or have permission from the copyright holder, YOU CANNOT USE IT.
Or let’s say you’re doing a round up of blog projects and you want to use photos from other blogs and link to them? That’s OK, right? NOPE. Unless the blogger has a statement somewhere on their site (Like a Creative Commons License or other copyright statement) you need to write and ask before using that image, even if your intent is just to share their content and send them traffic. Though you should also know that most bloggers (the ones I know anyway) love being featured and will happily give you permission. But you shouldn’t assume, because you know what they say about ass u me -ing anything.
You’ll notice this blog has a copyright statement in the footer, all the way at the bottom of every page.
So if you want to feature something of mine in a round up (thank you!) and use one photo only with a link back and credit. You’ll find these statements on lots of blogs.
What is licensing?
One of the rights a copyright holder has is the ability to assign usage rights to others. A common example of this is photographers who allow their photographs to be licensed for use through sites like Shutterstock. The original photographer still holds the copyright, but they have agreed to let you use their work when you purchase the license. This does not mean you own the copyright. You still need to look at the fine print when you purchase a license about how you can/cannot use the work.
Another example is songs. If you buy a song through iTunes, you are not buying the song. You are purchasing a license to load that song onto your devices and play it for yourself. You can’t then add it to your YouTube video and get a million views. You’d need another kind of license (which is much more expensive) to do that. You also can’t email it to your brother under the terms of your license. He’d need to purchase his own copy. Similarly, you can’t play that song off your phone at a public performance – because you didn’t license the broadcast rights. Make sense?
What’s the difference between copyright and trademark?
OK, so you can’t copyright a word or phrase, like “Blank Slate Patterns”. However you can (and I have) trademark it. Trademark means that the person holding the trademark has the right to use it in commerce in certain areas, in whichever ones the trademark holder has applied for use.
Another difference between trademark and copyright is that you can’t use something that would be confusingly similar to a trademark within the same area of commerce. So you couldn’t call your retail store “Walk-Mart” because that would be too similar to the trademarked “Wal-Mart”.
Another example: “Coca-Cola” is a registered trademark. If you were to create a purse that was similar in shape to a bottle of soda and write Coca-Cola on it, you would be in trouble. Because guess what – Coca Cola has their trademark registered within the area of purses, too.
Want to search trademarks? You can do that here.
Now of course this post isn’t the be-all, end-all post on copyright. It’s pretty complicated, which is why there are intellectual property lawyers (of which I am not one). But hopefully this kind of covers the basics for you so you can keep your blog on the up and up.