One of the most misunderstood issues online has to do with copyright—both with email and website content copyright issues. For some reason, as with many things online, there is this incorrect perception that anything goes. Or that the entire online world is “public domain.”
Many are finding out the hard way that when it comes to protecting creative collateral, copyright is the law. And, copyright laws can and are being enforced online.
No, I am not an attorney. Nor do I play one on T.V. But I can help you avoid potential problems based on guiding clients for over two decades about the issues involved in using others' work.
Hopefully, this effort will help you avoid finding out the hard way that copyright is alive and well online.
Copyright Myths Online
1. “I can right click, save anything online and use it how I wish.”
This is a perfect example of just because you can doesn't mean you do. Those graphics or files were created by someone out there. They legally attained the copyright upon that files creation.
Without the creator's specific permission to use that file or graphic, you have no right to take it and use it as you please. There is no exception to this rule. Always ask a site owner before you illegally swipe anything off their site to display on yours.
2. “As long as I note the author’s name, I can use their site’s content on my site.”
Although you are being nice and giving credit where credit is due, you still need to ask the author’s permission to post their work on your site. For example, the author may not want their information posted anywhere off their own site. Or, they may not approve of your site as a venue for their information.
That is their choice to make, not yours. Just because you choose to give credit doesn't give you permission. Always ask a site owner if you can use their content before you put it on your site.
3. “I can link to graphics on other sites so that they display on my site.”
Okay, maybe you didn't actually download the graphic and put it on your server, but if you display someone's work on your site without their permission, the bottom line is still the same. And, you are using their server’s resources to display their files on your site.
4. “I can display pages from other websites within frames on my site.”
Many site owners prohibit their site pages from being framed within another site because it gives the impression that the other site created the information. Unfortunately, folks often innocently do this, so they don’t have to send site visitors off their site for the information they want to provide.
Others do so to precisely provide that impression it is content they created. A better option is to link to the information you like and create a new window to open to make sure your site is still available to your site visitors.
5. “If I only quote a portion of the other site’s content and link to them I do not need their permission.”
Again, it would behoove you to have permission to do so. However, using only portions allows you to possibly give the wrong impression about the author’s overall content, and this can be misleading at best.
Unless you are writing an opinion piece or review where quotes from the other site are necessary to your post, ask permission first.
6. “If I pay someone to create graphics for my website, I own the copyright to those graphics.”
Not necessarily. Your agreement with the graphic artist needs to explicitly state that upon your payment, all of their rights are then transferred to you in whole; you most likely only have an exclusive license to use those graphics.
In addition, purchasing the full copyright will cost you much more than simple exclusivity. The fact is that the moment anything is created, whether it be written or drawn, the creator owns the copyright – that’s the law.
Copyright can only be transferred in a written, legally binding agreement signed by the work's creator stating they are transferring their rights to you. Saying you own it because you paid for it doesn't make it a legal (aff) fact.
7. “Email is not copyright protected once it is sent.”
Email is a written work that, once created, is copyright protected by the author. This means you cannot post publicly an email sent to you privately.
You cannot post private emails to your site, to message boards, or to your blog without the author’s specific permission to do so. Well, you can, but don't be surprised if doing so backfires on your credibility.
Just because an email was sent to you as a private communication does not mean you then own it and do what you like. In addition, an email that is posted to a group of people on a mailing list or Newsgroup does not make the email available for reposting, copying, or any other use.
Not without the express and written consent of the author.
What's the bottom line with online copyright?
Courtesy! Don't assume that you can use, repost or take anything you find online simply because you can. Be a courteous Netizen and always ask first.
Seek out the DMCA (aff) (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) page and policy statement on your ISP and hosting provider’s websites to handle complaints and reports regarding copyright abuse. Take some time to read that information, make yourself aware of your rights, and do not infringe on others.
The main resource for all this legal mumbo-jumbo concerning online copyright and the DMCA is at http://www.copyright.gov. (United States)
Again, I am not an attorney, nor am I providing legal advice. However, I hope I've informed you of some of the common issues I see clients run into that need to be seriously considered by all who are online, whether they are creating their own or using other's creative or written works.
Your next step? Read my article: How to Report Stolen Content: DMCA Guide and Tips
At your service,