NOT Legal Advice about Internet Copyrights

by Jerry Hobby on February 28, 2012

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NOT Legal Advice about Internet Copyrights

A group of web designers were discussing how they should be able to use content from other websites.  Then they started discussing the logic behind that thought.  One guy figured that it is okay as long as he is not making money from it.  Another person suggested that certain types of content can be used under copyright Fair Use laws.  But if you read those laws, you will quickly see they are subject to interpretation of scale, intention, and impact.   In other words, he who has the best lawyer, wins!   A commonly accepted method, which is probably not upheld by law, is to use a portion of “borrowed” content, up to maybe one paragraph, and linking back to the original author.  But even that is debatable.

I recall reading a policy from the Houston Chronicle stating that you may use headlines only and link to the story from there, but not use any portion of the story itself.  Every copyright owner will have his own “acceptable use” policies.  If you violate what they personally allow, you are at risk of at least getting a letter about it.

I am happy to allow people to use portions of my content, however I insist on credit on their site as well as a link to the page with the content.  I also require that my content is not used to generate profits for any entity other than my own.  It’s a reasonable policy.  But that’s just my rules.  The law, as we saw before, is subject to interpretation in these very wide gray areas.

What does matter is if you do violate a copyright, what happens.  I know of people who own copyright works and they actively seek out copyright infringement and are aggressive with pursuing settlements from violators.  Some of them probably violate laws of their own with their own strong-arm tactics.

From what I understand, and I’m probably WRONG, is that if you register your copyrights properly with the US Copyright Office, that the default compensation awarded for each violation is $25,000.  Of course you could argue up or down, but who wants to take a risk of a default judgement at that level?   Now imaging companies that actively pursue violators.  It’s a scary thought.

One company, which I will not mention by name, sells images online.  They display the images without watermarks and in open and easy to download ways.  If you license from them, no problem.  If you fail to license, but use the image anyway, they come after you hard with certified letters and demands for high fees.  They even point out that if you pay the settlement, you are still not allowed to use the image and that you must license it even after you pay that settlement.   Somehow you end up owing them thousands of dollars for something you could have originally licensed for under $100.

If you are using content that someone else created, then you must have permission.   If you must make an assumption, use good judgement from the perspective of how to serve the owner of the material.  Don’t think just about what you want.  Think about what they will consider is a FAVOR or a THEFT.   If you are telling your readers how amazing someone else is, and you include images or copy to help promote them that way, you probably won’t be at risk.  But even still, the images on their site may be licensed in such a way that they are not even allowed to let you use those for positive reasons.  Therefore, it’s always a risk and you should always have written permission for anything you “take”.

If you own copyrighted content, you can monitor for that content being stolen using tools like CopyScape.com.  Their premium service will constantly monitor for content theft.  It’s probably not necessary for most people thought.  If you have a trademarked or copyrighted phrase, you may be able to find that with Google Alerts.  That’s a free service and is probably best for most needs.

Ok — if you need help with Internet copyright laws or issues, you can call me.  I will refer you to an attorney, but I can answer some common sense advice or help you certain services.   I’m not writing this article to sell anything.  I’m writing this article because I care about my readers, clients, friends, and associates.  Feel free to share this article with Facebook or Linkedin or Google Plus sharing buttons.

Can you help me out?  I depend on referrals and I’m at a good point to take on several new projects.   We have new staff on board and they are top talent.  Ready to put them to work for you or your referrals.  Call me or email me.


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