Copyright Myths That Refuse to Die.
I’ve been attending the Snap! conference this week and it looks like a bunch of scary copyright myths are walking among us. These copyright myths are like zombies that refuse to die. While they may not eat your brains, they can certainly muddle your thinking and expose you to some serious danger. Personally, I believe all zombies deserve to die so here’s my attempt to put them in the grave, once and for all.
Myth #1 – I Found it on the Internet, so its OK to Use it!
With the advent of Wikimedia Commons and similar public domain resources, many bloggers seem to believe that anything floating around on the Internet is fair game. Really? Just think about that for a minute. If somebody steals YOUR content and posts it to their YouTube channel or their blog, would you think that’s ok? Of course not – so don’t assume that you can just take any content that you find out there and use it as you’d like. Unless, of course, you want to help some attorney send his or her kid to college.
Myth #2 – I Changed it 10% (or 20%), so its OK to Use it!
No. Stop. Please. Think of the children. This just doesn’t make any sense. How would you measure “20%” anyway? Who would do the measuring? Based on what I’ve been told, some graphic design schools actually teach this little “rule” as part of their curriculum. Don’t go to that school, ok? There is no “20%” test or anything like it so don’t get trapped by this zombie.
Myth #3 – It’s “Fair Use,” so its OK to Use it!
Here’s the deal. I’m an attorney and I’ve been studying and working with copyright law for more than 20 years. The law on “fair use” is very complicated and it’s not easy to figure out unless you have a ton of experience. Even most lawyers don’t really get it so, no offense, but you’re not qualified to make this judgment. You may be really, really, smart but do you really want to find out that you’re not as smart as you thought you were by being sued for copyright infringement?
Myth #4 – It Didn’t Have a Copyright Notice, so its OK to Use it!
Stuff is often posted on the Internet without any kind of copyright notice so, of course, that means copyright law doesn’t apply, right? Wrong! Many years ago (like before many of you were born), including a copyright notice was a strict requirement to preserve your rights in your work. That hasn’t been true for decades so don’t rely on this outdated idea to protect you from the copyright zombies. Including a copyright notice with your work is still a very good idea for a variety of reasons, but it’s not required anymore.
Myth #5 – I Didn’t Make Any Money From it, so its OK to Use it!
Many bloggers seem to think that if they post content from someone else but don’t make any money from it, they aren’t violating any copyright laws. Sorry. That’s not the rule. The “commercial” nature of your use is but one of four factors to be evaluated when deciding the issue of copyright infringement. If you don’t know what the other three are, you’d better not depend on this single factor to save you from the copyright zombies.
Myth #6 – I Posted a Disclaimer, and Said That I Didn’t Own the Copyright, so its OK to Use it!
Seriously? Who makes this stuff up? The basic rule is pretty simple. If you take someone’s content and use it without their permission, you have likely violated their rights. Sure, there are many complicated rules that may or may not affect your liability, and may limit how much money you have to pay, but those details typically get hashed out in court, where you are the defendant in a lawsuit.
Myth #7 – I Gave the Copyright Owner Credit, so its OK to Use it!
Once again, not only is this not true, it just doesn’t even make any sense. You can’t republish Harry Potter for your own purposes and then dodge liability by simply giving credit to J.K. Rowling. While giving credit to the original creator of the photo, artwork, or whatever is usually the right thing to do, that alone won’t save you from a claim of copyright infringement.
Copyright law can be somewhat intimidating but whatever you do, don’t rely on these copyright myths when creating content for your blog. Watch for an upcoming post where I’ll give you the basic ground rules to follow so that you can stay on the right side of the law.
Remember – Be Smart. Be Legal.
Disclaimer – Yes, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer. All information in this post is provided for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice for any person or specific situation.
Karen L Ploransky says
Thanks for the info and look forward to your next post! Glad you joined out facebook group too! Welcome!
Thank you very much. I look forward to working with all of you.
Corinna - ADesignerAtHome says
Love the addition of the protip 🙂 I’m glad you exist.
You are very kind. I hope to provide more information that will be helpful.
This is so true. I have seen many designers battle with the problems of people taking their designs and claiming it as their own. I have even seen people sell something that the original creator offered for free. Amazing what people come up with!
One option you did not mention the myth “I translated it into a different language, so it’s not the same as the original”. Again, clearly your Harry Potter analogy applies 🙂
Thanks for your comment. You are correct because translation is simply a “derivative work” under the law so it’s still an infringement. Be sure and read the post about the DMCA for additional information on the improper use of content.
Cindy deRosier says
Thank you. This is very helpful.
You’re most welcome. I hope you find the other blog posts informative as well.
This was terrific. Thank you for posting. I truly appreciated it.
One myth I could add is about teachers, including college professors, that think because they are teaching something, they are allowed free use to copy. Once again the Harry Potter rule applies.
Yes, you are certainly correct. Many educators think that all “educational use” is automatically “fair use.” This is, of course, nonsense.
My favorite is people who take something from the Victorian era and slap their own copyright on it, then maintain that it belongs to them.
Well, technically, they may actually own a copyright on some aspect of the publication such as the organization of the material. Of course they will never own the copyright in the underlying text once it passes into the public domain.
Thanks for this! What about all the bloggers that are creating Disney Inspired Crafts and Recipe ideas? Can you make Mickey Mouse Cupcakes, or princess treats and label it derivative work? I haven’t touched anything Disney because of not being sure about this….
Thanks for your question.
Disney is an interesting case study. For years they were known for their almost draconian approach to infringement. They sued many people and were known for being bullies.
Disney Sues for $1,000,000
Lately, however, Disney seems to be loosening up just a bit.
Disney Loosens Up
Minimally infringing uses of Disney characters for a Disney themed birthday party (cupcakes for your daughter’s birthday party and handmade craft decorations) are not likely to put you in Disney’s crosshairs. That being said, if your business model revolves around making and selling Disney character-related items (dolls, shirts, games, etc.) then you can probably expect to hear from Disney’s lawyers.
Katie Wyllie says
Thanks for this! I have NO intention of selling anything…but I have wanted to make cute disney inspired cupcakes and wasn’t sure if that would stepping on their toes 🙂
if i were to gather some pictures of landscapes from an image site, like imgur.com, and paint pictures of them by combining different aspects of them into one patchwork conglomerate, is that legal? like a fence from one in front of a house from another with a few trees from several different ones and a sky from another. it seems that as long as i am just looking at it and interpreting my vision of it that would make it mine, same as if i were looking at a bunch of landscapes and then painted one from memory. i understand that copying and pasting images from photoshop could be construed as infringement but if i processed it through my brain and hands it makes it mine and not a derivative. but i am not a lawyer, yours or anyone else’s, and with good reason.
Thanks for your comment and question. I don’t provide legal advice via this website so I can’t answer your question directly. Just keep in mind that a derivative work is based on one or more pre-existing works. It is legal to be “inspired” by another person’s work but you must add sufficient creativity so as not to be viewed as an infringer. The closer your work looks like another person’s work, the more likely it is to be considered an infringement.