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  • Writer's pictureCassandra L. Wilkinson

Copyright Infringement in the Digital Age

When you share someone else’s photographs, quotes, images, and facts on Pintrest, Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook, your personal blog, or any other social media, could you be committing copyright infringement? If you are using these social media pages like most people, the answer is probably yes.
Some misconceptions regarding social media and copyright laws are:
1.) As long as I am not making money off the work then I am not infringing.
This is not true. You would still be subject to the same copyright laws as someone who is making a profit. You can, however, license very inexpensive images from many imagery providers that are perfect for use on a blog or website. Some sites will license their low resolution images for free as long as you cite them.
2.) Because it is online, it’s Public Domain.
Public Domain only makes the work available online and does not negate the copyright protection afforded to the work. Many rules apply to “public domain” as to when you legally can and cannot use someone’s work.
A work is in the public domain if its:
• Before 1923. • By the federal government, at any time. • 1964-1977 without a copyright notice. • 1923-1963 with copyright notice (if copyright not renewed with term). • 1923-1963 without copyright notice.
Work is subject to copyright protection if it specifically is published:
• From 1978 – on. • 1964-1977 with a copyright notice. • 1923-1963 with a copyright notice, if it was renewed.
3.) I am using am image I found on Google Images search so it’s safe.
Google is a search engine that helps you locate content such as images and photos. It is not a collection of public domain or copyright-free works.
However, images and photographs in the public domain do not require permission. If there is a Creative Commons** license attached to the image or photograph that permits limited or unlimited use of that image without communicating with the copyright owner.
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons according to their website is defined as:
Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice. CC licenses let you easily change your copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.”
Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.
4.) It’s okay to use as long as I give credit.
According to copyright law, only if you have the copyright holders’ permission to use.
But what about “Fair Use”?
Fair Use:
According to Merriam Webster it is defined as: "a legal doctrine that portions of copyrighted materials may be used without permission of the copyright owner provided the use is fair and reasonable, does not substantially impair the value of the materials, and does not curtail the profits reasonably expected by the owner."
However, fair use has its limitation too, as stated in Section 107 of the copyright act:
§ 107 . Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
As convoluted as copyright law can be when it comes to social media here a few things that you should take into consideration when you are posting images or quoting or using someone else’s work:
• Ask the owner for permission to use their work • Quote a person or link to the original article • Use Creative Commons • Use original photo images • Buy images through a service • And last but not least Ask Direct Permission.
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