There is no doubt about it – the bigger something becomes, the more prone it is to controversy, and blogging is not exempt from this. I am sure that you have heard bits and pieces about blogs and copyright. You might have even heard of some blogs which publish content that is not theirs – in varying degrees. Sometimes, even when bloggers do not intend to commit copyright infringement, it happens. Let’s look at some important points that will help you avoid doing so.
Let’s begin by looking at the term copyright. What does it really mean? Wikipedia gives a very good definition:
Copyright is a form of intellectual property that gives the author of an original work exclusive right for a certain time period in relation to that work, including its publication, distribution and adaptation, after which time the work is said to enter the public domain. Copyright applies to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete and fixed in a medium. Some jurisdictions also recognize “moral rights” of the creator of a work, such as the right to be credited for the work. Copyright is described under the umbrella term intellectual property along with patents and trademarks.
So why worry about copyright? Why did they come up with the concept in the first place? The bottom line is this: copyright exists so that the owner of the content/idea is protected. This simply means that you can’t just copy text and photos and use it in your posts. You need to get the owner’s explicit permission before you can use the material.
What can you use and what can’t you use?
Here’s a bit of good news – copyrighted material MAY be used in a limited manner IF the purpose is scholarly. In addition to this, you may use copyrighted material to a certain degree if you are reviewing it. This is what is called the principle of “fair use.” Under this, you do not have to ask for the owner’s permission.
More so, anyone is allowed to use facts and other types of material that is not protected by copyright. These include names, general truths, slogans, and the like. Of course, you still have to check for the protection that the “owner” might have acquired. To be on the safe side, always make sure that what you are using is copyright-free.
If you do want to use someone else’s work, you may do so as long as you merely use an excerpt; that is, a small portion of the work. In order to do this legally, your purpose should be something like commenting or critiquing the work OR reporting the work. More importantly, you have to give credit where credit is due. For blogging, this means mentioning your source and, if applicable, linking to the web site or blog where you got the material.
This last bit is what will keep you protected for the most part. Just as long as you do not republish whole works and you always give the proper credit, you should be fine. Better yet, just create brand new material for yourself. After all, that is why you joined the blogosphere in the first place, right?