Copyright Law: Top 7 Online Copyright Myths
By Judith Kallos
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One of the most misunderstood issues online has to do with copyright. Both with e-mail and Web site copyright issues. For some reason, as with many things online, there is this incorrect perception that anything goes. However, many are finding out the hard way that when it comes to protecting creative collateral, copyright is 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 a decade. Hopefully, this effort will help others from finding out the hard way that copyright is alive and well online.
- “I can right click, save anything online and use it how I
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 file’s
creation. Without their specific permission to use that file or
graphic, you have no right to just take it and use it as you
please. Always ask a site owner before you illegally swipe
anything off their site.
- “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. The author may not want their information
posted anywhere off their own site or they many not approve of
your site as a venue for their information that is their choice
to make not yours. Always ask a site owner if you can use their
content before you put it on your site.
- “I can link to graphics on other sites so that they display on my site.”
O.K., maybe you didn't actually download the graphic and put it
on your server, but if you are displaying someone else’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
something on your site. Shame on you!
- “I can display pages from other’s Web sites 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. Many times folks innocently
do this so they don’t have to send site visitors off their site
for information they want to provide. Others do so to precisely
give the impression it is content they created. A better option
is to link to the information you like and create a new window to
open when doing so to ensure your site is still available to your
- “If I only quote a portion of 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. Using
only portions allows you to possibly give the wrong impression
about the author’s overall content and this can be misleading at
best. If you want to quote any written work in whole or part you
need to ask permission to do so.
- “If I pay someone to create graphics for my Web site, I own the copyright to those graphics.”
Not necessarily. Unless your agreement with the graphic artist
explicitly states that upon your payment all of their rights are
then transferred to you, you most likely only have exclusive
license to use those graphics. And to purchase the full
copyright will cost you a bunch more than simple exclusivity!
Understand that the moment anything is created whether it be
written or drawn, the creator owns the copyright that’s the law.
Over the years I've had clients claim they own copyright just
because they paid me to create this or that. It simply, legally,
is not the case (and my contract(s) clearly state this - including
their option to purchase my copyright if they so choose).
Copyright can _only_ be transferred in a written legally binding
agreement signed by the creator of the work stating they are
transferring their rights to you. Saying you own it because you
paid for it doesn't make it legal fact. If you do not have a
written agreement specifically transferring the copyright to you,
you do not own the copyright to those graphics.
E-mail is not copyright protected once it is sent.
E-mail is a written work that once created is copyright protected
by the author. This means you cannot post publicly an e-mail
sent to you privately. You cannot post private e-mails to your
site, to message boards or to your blog without the authors
specific permission to do so.
Just because an e-mail was sent to you as a private communication
does not mean you then own it and can do with it what you like.
In addition, e-mail that is posted to a group of people, on a
mailing list or Newsgroup does not make the e-mail available for
reposting, copying, or any other use - not without the express and
written consent of the writer.
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!
You might be interested to find a DMCA (Digital Millennium
Copyright Act) page and policy statement on your ISP and hosting
providers Web sites to handle complaints and reports of the
above types of copyright abuse. Take some time to read that
information and make yourself aware of your rights and make sure
you do not infringe on others. The main resource for all the
legal mumbo jumbo on online copyright and the DMCA is on the
Governments site @ http://www.copyright.gov.
Again, I am not an attorney nor am I providing legal advice. I
hope I've informed you of some of the issues that need to be
seriously considered by all who are online whether they are
creating their own or using others creative or written works.
Judith Kallos is an authoritative and good-humored Technology Muse.
Check out her new book: "Because Netiquette Matters! Your
Comprehensive Reference Guide to E-mail Etiquette and Proper
Technology Use" @: http://www.BecauseNetiquetteMatters.com
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Article Submitted On: November 19, 2004