Copyright is a notoriously confusing and complicated area of law, but one that also impacts nearly every part of our daily lives. As such, it is pretty much inevitable that well-intended people are going to make mistakes.
However, with copyright law, blunders can be very costly. In addition to the threat of a lawsuit, one can have their site shut down, access to some of their favorite services revoked and lose a lot of credibility. Even if none of those things comes to pass, a copyright dispute is still a major headache and one that most, if given the choice, would prefer to avoid.
As such, it’s important for bloggers to be aware of some of the more common copyright pitfalls that come from blogging and, more importantly, how to avoid them.
With that in mind, here are three of the most common copyright blunders bloggers make and what can be done to prevent yourself from falling into them. Fortunately, all are easy mistakes to see and avoid, if you know to look for them.
1. Using Unlicensed Photos
Photos, historically, have been one of the most common sticking points for bloggers when it comes to copyright. Most bloggers are content and able to to write their own text but, when they want to use images to go along with their post or as part of their layout, they often have to pull from outside sources.
The problem is that most images on the Web are copyright protected and, in many cases, using images on your blog is an infringement of those rights.
Previously though, using images on your blog without permission wasn’t much of a risk not because it wasn’t an infringement, but because it was unlikely the copyright holder would find out. However, as technology for tracking images on the Web has improved the stock photo industry has been on a massive litigation campaign and even mainstream media outlets have started suing over images.
You can avoid this one easily by only using licensed images on your blog. There are many ways you can do this including using Creative Commons-licensed images on Flickr or finding freely-licensed stock photo images.
Most likely, you can find an image that will fit your needs that you can use for free without any fears of copyright infringement.
2. Misunderstanding Fair Use
Fair use is perhaps the most nuanced and confusing portion of an already nuanced and confusing area of law. However, it is also very commonly misunderstood by bloggers who try to use content in a way that simply isn’t compatible with the law.
To put it simply, fair use is an exemption to the exclusive rights of copyright holders that allow others to use their work in a limited way without permission. However, fair use does not have any “hard line” rules such as X number of words or Y number of seconds in a song. The determination as to whether a use is “fair” or not depends on four factors and how a judge and/or jury feels about your use in relation to them.
However, the general rule is that the more limited use and the more transformative the use, the more likely it is to be considered fair. While fair use almost certainly allows you to take a few sentences from a longer article as part of a rebuttal, it doesn’t allow you to simply take half of the work and link to the original.
Unfortunately, attributing a work and/or linking to it has little bearing on whether a use is fair or not. It’s very possible to attribute a work and link to it and still have the use be an infringement.
Your best bet is, if you’re unsure about fair use, is to either use a fair use analysis tool or ask an attorney if at all possible. The other solution is, if you want large amounts of content to use on your blog, is to find freely-licensed material, such as Creative Commons works, that you can use without worry.
3. Forgetting You Are a Community Admin Too
Finally, most blogs allow or encourage comments, guest posts and other interaction from its audience. However, those interactions can also raise copyright issues and, as the owner of the site, you do have obligations and issues should a copyright issue arise.
If you are in the U.S. or EU, as well as many other nations, you can not be held liable for copyright infringement that was done on your site by a visitor. That is, so long as you meet the criteria under your local law and act quickly to remove or disable access to infringing works when properly notified.
In the U.S., for example, you need to register yourself and your site with the U.S. Copyright Office and make sure that you are available to receive notices of copyright infringement. When you do receive them, you need to act quickly to remove the allegedly infringing work.
However, if you have relatively few comments or see few posts in your on-site forum, it may not be worth going through the full process. Still, you need to be aware of it and make yourself easily available in the event that a copyright infringement by a user does slip through.
If you take those steps, you can avoid a major legal headache down the road by ensuring that, no matter what your visitors do, you can’t be held liable for their actions on your server.
Most of the copyright pitfalls for bloggers are fairly easy to avoid but they do require that you be aware of them in advance and be looking for them.
However, once your eyes are open to these issues, you can more easily skirt some of the more common copyright pitfalls and move forward with your blog more confident that you aren’t going to be sued or otherwise in copyright trouble for your actions.
That, in turn, should help give you the freedom you need to run your blog and make it great.
Have a question about the law and freelance writing? Either leave a comment below or contact me directly if you wish to keep the information private (However, please mention that it is a suggestion for Freelance Writing Jobs). This column will be determined largely by your suggestions and questions so let me know what you want to know about.
I am not an attorney and nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice.